The debate over Connecticut statute 8-30g, the three-decades-old law governing affordable housing in the state, came to Cheshire these past few weeks as members of the Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed an application for a 70-unit apartment complex that will include approximately 30% affordable housing.
The PZC approved the application last week, but not before offering up criticisms of both the applicant and the law that Commissioners claim made it virtually impossible for the body to deny the project.
Statute 8-30g essentially states that all Connecticut municipalities must have at least 10% of its housing stock deemed “affordable.” If a town or city meets that standard, then it is exempt from 8-30g. However, if a municipality falls under those requirements, any rejection of a development offering 30% or more affordable housing units can be challenged at the state level and town officials must pass a high bar for the rejection to be upheld.
During the recent PZC meeting, several Commissioners mentioned that, if it were not for 8-30g, they would have voted against the proposed development, questioning the size of the planned building and the number of units to be made available. However, because of the state statute, those same Commissioners admitted that a PZC rejection of the application would end up in state court, where the Town would likely lose.
“This is a weird spot to be in, to say ‘yes’ when you really don’t want to,” said Commissioner Tom Selmont, before the vote was tallied.
The goal of 8-30g is a laudable one. The cost of living in Connecticut is high, meaning many do not have the ability to work and live in the same city due to exorbitant rent or sky-high housing prices. Requiring all municipalities to offer at least 10% affordable housing seeks to help make the state a more sustainable place in which all can live. It also aims to prevent municipalities from simply denying applications based on opposition to affordable housing in general.
However, the controversial nature of 8-30g should give all pause, even those most ardently in favor of promoting affordable housing. Yes, the state should do what it can to insist that such units are offered throughout Connecticut and a law such as 8-30g must exist in order to force the hand of reluctant municipalities. Yet, it would seem that changes to the existing statute are overdue.
During the recent legislative session, the Planning & Development and Housing Committees considered several bills that would have reformed 8-30g. None appear likely to move forward. Of course, lawmakers shouldn’t pass reforms just for the sake of doing so, as whatever changes are made to 8-30g must not completely neuter the spirit and intent of the law. But it’s unfortunate that no reforms appear on the horizon.
The objections raised to the proposed 70-unit apartment building in Cheshire were based on legitimate concerns about the size of the proposed project, but the more pressing issue is the Connecticut law that takes so much control away from local board and commissions. That has nothing to do with the specific project in Cheshire, but everything to do with a laudable law that clearly needs to be re-examined in order to promote more buy-in from municipal leaders.
To the credit of the apartment building developers, they appear willing to amend certain aspects of their proposal to address some specific requests from the PZC, and it would seem that some of the disagreements engendered during affordable housing debates could be settled through more cooperation between developers and municipalities. But having laws on the books that are so divisive is not healthy for the state as a whole, and while alterations to 8-30g — allowing for more municipal flexibility to deny such applications — won’t please everyone, they would go a long way to showing the state’s desire for a more peaceful approach to the affordable housing problem.