Monday, August 2, 2010

Affordable Housing and 8-30G

As an intern for the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, I've been asked to comment on section 8-30G of the Connecticut General Statues, commonly known as the Affordable Housing Appeals Procedure. Section 8-30G, enacted in 1989, was a boon to advocates for more fair and affordable housing in the state, but has also been highly controversial. This section of the statutes applies to cases where a developer proposes building affordable housing in any town where less than 10% of existing housing can be described as affordable (meaning a household earning less than 60-80% of the state or area's median income must spend no more than 30% of its income on total housing costs). If a town zoning or planning commission rejects a developer's application to build affordable housing in a residential area, the developer can then appeal the town's decision and the burden of proof would be on the town to prove that rejecting the development was, "necessary to protect substantial public interests in health, safety, or other matters…such public interests clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing; and…such public interests cannot be protected by reasonable changes to the affordable housing development". The gist of the law is that for the developer's proposal to be rejected, the town zoning or planning commission must make a convincing case that such a proposal would clearly be against public interests or somehow endanger the health or safety of the community. Since for the vast majority of towns in Connecticut less than 10% of housing can be classified as affordable, this revision to the statues sent waves throughout the state and has led to the creation of hundreds, if not thousands, of affordable housing units statewide- either through the appeals process or merely because of towns recognizing the difficulty of opposing such developments.

Naturally, section 8-30G has provoked a good deal of opposition from affected towns. There are people that oppose affordable housing for bigoted or ignorant reasons, and enacting a law that favors the creation of affordable housing won’t change those attitudes overnight. Some people bristle at the thought of having local control over town planning compromised by often self-interested developers, and others express frustration and disappointment that the state government, in trying to further affordable housing, would resort to measures which effectively punish towns rather than incentivize- use of the “stick” and not the “carrot”.

But there are also those that want to repeal or revise section 8-30G for perfectly legitimate and principled reasons- namely, that it serves to work against Connecticut “smart growth” efforts. Although developers must site their affordable housing units in residential zones, the exact location of those units can be anywhere, such as on the peripheries of the town or away from population centers. For a town interested in becoming more compact and sustainable, this law can be frustrating, indeed. But other towns may be more interested in restricting any influx of people, or specifically, a certain type of people. As such, instead of restricting their residential zones or revising their zoning regulations to more precisely define their plain for sustainable growth, they insert language into their town statutes which gives overwhelming priority to town residents in applying for affordable housing, effectively barring low-income out-of-towners from residing there. The undertones to this kind of behavior can be clear: urban poor are not welcome in the suburbs. But of course, other towns may very well be interested in providing affordable housing, as long as it fits the context of the town’s broader plan for sustainable growth and doesn’t lead to further sprawl. Considering how vehement opposition to the law can be, it can be difficult to know exactly what the underlying feelings are. Fighting 8-30G tooth-and-nail without suggesting feasible alternatives and demonstrating their successful implementation is not the best way to show one’s intentions.

Some advocates for affordable housing take the view that the smart growth movement in Connecticut is by its very nature elitist and discriminatory, interpreting it as motivated merely by a desire to restrict population growth to the cities, discouraging low-income and non-white Connecticut residents from ever moving outside the cities and achieving the same economic opportunity and quality- of-life that more affluent residents enjoy. I think this view is unfair. I know that the true adherents to a smart growth philosophy believe that an inclusionary and sustainable society are one and the same. And I think the conflict between smart growth and affordable housing is artificial and pointless, and a distraction from the real issues. What I’m hoping for now is greater communication between both sides and sensitivity towards the other’s concerns. The circumstances of an economically and racially segregated state must be considered alongside the need for a radically different approach to population growth and economic development, and I see no reason why both can’t be done.

-Owen Deutsch

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Plans for High-Speed Rail Moving Full-Speed Ahead

Tomorrow--Thursday, July 29--DOT Officials from Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts will host a public informational meeting to discuss the environmental impact of the planned New Haven-Hartford-Springfield high-speed rail line. According to Governor Rell, the project "has tremendous economic development potential for Connecticut and will go a long way to ease congestion on heavily traveled Interstate 91." Transportation officials from Connecticut and the other states involved have been collaborating with the federal government and Amtrak to complete necessary preliminary work.

Earlier this week, Governor Rell also announced the state Bond Commission is expected to approve $260 million in bonding to improve the corridor. This funding may be matched by $220 million in federal funding should Connecticut's application be approved. Officials have high hopes the NHHS High-Speed Rail Line will attract enthusiasm on the federal level given the strong regional collaboration taking place in New England.

Come to One Union Place in downtown Hartford at 6:00 P.M. tomorrow evening to learn more and to speak for the public.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Woman Hits Liability Lotto-Will CT Nature Lovers Lose 3000 Acres of Paradise? Public Hearing TONIGHT!

In mid-May, a Connecticut jury awarded $2.9 million to Maribeth Blonski, 43, for injuries sustained after she crashed her mountain bike into a large, obvious, yellow gate at the West Hartford Reservoir in 2002. In response, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) is considering closing its gates to all recreational activities to avoid potential future lawsuits and higher insurance premiums.


The MDC is a non-profit municipal corporation created in 1929. It owns several recreation areas, including the West Hartford Reservoir, which the MDC itself calls a “nature lovers paradise.”

Blonski, from Wethersfield and Rocky Hill, formerly hosted a public access television program about mountain biking. She publicly commented that at the time of the accident her head was down and she did not see the gate until she was only three feet away. Court documents indicate she was riding between 20 and 30 mph. An expert witness noted skid marks 20 feet from the gate, and that she was riding in the wrong direction.

The MDC argued the accident was a result of Blonski’s own negligence and that as a political subdivision of the state, it is immune from such lawsuits.


Nevertheless, after a complex legal analysis involving Connecticut’s Recreational Liability Statute and definitions of “municipal corporations,” “government functions,” “corporate profits,” and “proprietary functions,” the judge determined that the MDC was notimmune from liability. The jury then decided the rider was 30% at fault and that the MDC was 70% at fault for not having signs and warnings to make riders aware of the gate that was present and closed for most of 30 years.

Since the jury announced its decision, the MDC has entered a motion to set aside the verdict. Opposition to closing the West Hartford reservoir has become vocal. West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka and town councilor Joseph Verrengia will introduce a resolution calling for the MDC not to close its reservoirs, and State Rep. David Baram said he will propose legislation that will stop future lawsuits against the Metropolitan District Commission.

Additionally, a public meeting on this topic will be held Tuesday, July 20th at 5:30 P.M. in the Auditorium of the Town Hall in West Hartford. If you appreciate the West Hartford Reservoir, it’s important that show up and say so.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Livable Communities Planning in Hartford Sets Example for the State of Connecticut by Erin Bourgault

U.S. Congressman John B. Larson held an open forum on Monday, June 28th on Livable Communities and the Hartford “One City, One Plan” and iQuilt Proposals, with special guest Congressman Earl Blumenauer. Hartford’s plans should set an example for the rest of the state of Connecticut towards urban planning, improving transportation and housing options, and protecting the environment. The proposals include goals to revitalize downtown Hartford and enhance its role as a cultural center, as well as connect people to the city by improving mobility and coordinating multimodal transport. The major focus of iQuilt, the “Capitol District Vision Plan and Hartford’s Pathways of Innovation,” is to create a Greenwalk between Bushnell Park and the riverfront, as well as a “Connecticut Square” outdoor festival space to transform Hartford into a more friendly and welcoming environment.

Although Hartford is a compact district, many people drive throughout the city. By improving streets so they are enjoyable, walkable and bike-able, citizens can become less dependent on cars. The new proposal includes a connection to Union Station in order to enhance the use of public transportation in Hartford. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that families with access to good public transportation can save an average of $9,000 per year in transportation costs compared to households with no transit access. Congressman Earl Blumenauer used the phrase “bike partisanship” and stated that cycling is a tool to bring people together. Improving transportation options across the state of Connecticut would do more than decrease traffic congestion; it would improve quality of life.

The proposals and commitments in Hartford connect to the proposed Livable Communities Act, written by U.S. Senator Dodd of Connecticut. According to Senator Dodd, “This legislation provides funding for regions to plan future growth in a coordinated way that reduces congestion, generates good-paying jobs, creates and preserves affordable housing, meets our environmental and energy goals, protects rural areas and green space, revitalizes our Main Streets and urban centers, and makes our communities better places to live, work, and raise families.”

In March 2010, Senator Dodd and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Ron Sims went to New Haven and Hartford to promote the integration of housing, transit, and smart land use to create more livable communities. Congressman Larson said, “As we work to rebuild our economy and put our neighbors back to work, we must also rebuild our communities, making them greener more sustainable and more livable for generations to come.” Hartford has begun to take on this goal, and the rest of the state of Connecticut should follow.

For more information, check out

Friday, June 11, 2010

Only the Sustainable Survive

As BP’s tragic oil spill ignites worldwide outrage, other corporations seek to secure an environmentally-friendly reputation among the consuming public. CBIA’s 2010 Sustainability Conference, held on Wednesday June 9, 2010, served as a welcome reminder that even in a down economy, sustainable business activity is not as far-fetched as some corporations believe. Michael Ellis, Senior Associate of GreenOrder, presented current sustainability trends among businesses and predictions for the future using results from CBIA’s 2010 Survey on Sustainability and Connecticut Business. Two panel discussions followed—highlighting the value companies place on “taking their sustainability initiatives to the next level.” Recycling paper or eliminating waste within facilities is not enough to compete in our transforming “green marketplace.”

Results from CBIA’s 2010 survey, coupled with speakers representing AT&T, IBM Corporation, and Microsoft, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, TelecommuteConnecticut/CTRideshare, and Oakleaf Waste Management demonstrate a strengthened commitment to sustainability principles. The key findings from CBIA’s Sustainability survey report the majority of Connecticut companies have adopted “green” business strategies—mostly in the area of energy efficiency. CBIA first began following green business trends in 2007 when only 47% of Connecticut companies reported going green. The number climbed to 59% in 2008, and jumped to 73% in 2009. This figure increased by only 1% over the last year—possibly implying that corporate sustainability has “reached a saturation point, at least for now.”

As added support to these findings, the representatives of AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft reported their respective companies have shifted away from thinking only in the short term and adopted a long-term analysis of energy costs. Furthermore, each of the three have adopted Smart Grid policies and were happy to report substantial returns on their investments in energy-conserving initiatives.

The environmental community applauds these businesses for their proactive attitudes and sense of corporate responsibility—yet work is still needed. Upfront costs and lack of knowledge are the two primary obstacles companies face in their efforts to “go green.” Many business leaders remain unconvinced that consumers are truly willing to put environmental concerns ahead of their wallets. In addition to these concerns, corporate leaders still have an incentive to think only in the short-term in regards to energy costs. Should the government decide to put a price on carbon, the externality posed by carbon dioxide will be internalized within the company’s operations costs and they will no longer be inclined to ignore the serious energy issue our country faces. Environmentalists must continue their efforts to inform the pubic on the importance of this issue. More importantly, we must persuade our policy-makers to more vigilantly pursue a clear, all-encompassing energy policy that forces corporations to view sustainability not as an unaffordable luxury, but as a sound, if not essential, business practice for a 21st century, global economy.

Nichole Strack
Trinity College, Hartford, CT.