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

6 comments:

  1. Great blog! There's an article in the New Haven Register regarding a wonderful, new mixed-use building at 360 State St. The building will be home to over 600 rental units--20 are set aside for Section 8 housing, in addition to 27 “affordable units” whose residents will be decided by lottery. But read the comments after the article! They're horrifying! Here's the link: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2010/08/01/news/new_haven/doc4c54eac431ddb199890241.txt

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  2. I just found this organization and this blog, so please excuse my lateness. It's indeed a disturbing trend to see smart growth and affordable housing proponents disagreeing.

    It seems to me that the pressures preventing development of more affordable housing, and maintenance of the affordability factor once established, are the same everywhere. Greenfield developers and inner city rehabbers alike often don't want to deal with affordable housing, because they feel there is more money to be made elsewhere.

    Strong central cities and inner suburbs should be a goal of advocates of both smart growth and affordable housing.

    The Connecticut approach of allowing affordable housing unless a particular project is unsound seems like a great response to general NIMBYism and racism where affordable housing is concerned.

    Kudos to Connecticut! I hope the law can remain in effect.

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  3. Section 830g in my town is being exploited by wealthy, aggressive developers to create large condo structures (90+% land use) in the middle of single family home neighborhoods. I consider myself a bleading heart liberal, but I cannot back a section like this that would allow for these developers to take over neighborhoods without any regard to the existing residents. What I am talking about has nothing to do with low-income and everything to do with land use. Imagine if the house next door or a vacant piece of land on your street was suddenly transformed into a 3 story, 16 unit condo complex with 90% land use. This section is allowing developers to do just that. They are buying the land for single family home prices and turning it into a gold mine by selling off 12 units at top dollar and 4 units at still a big ticket (because the price of even the "low-income" units is based on what the avg selling price is in the town). Anyway my opinion is, this section needs some serious ammendments based on land use and other such restrictions (height of building, resource analysis, etc). I'm all for making towns comply with a certain percentage of affordable housing, but I think it should be left up to the towns to comply and not let these wealthy builders get richer at the expense of local homeowneres.

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  4. How is it legal for a developer to try to apply 8-30g to a 55+ community and break the existing land lease agreements? Garden Homes Mgmt is trying to do this in Ledyard, CT, and many of the homeowners, who bought into this community because it is a 55+ community are upset.

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  5. http://www.change.org/petitions/connecticut-general-assembly-reform-8-30g-to-protect-communities-against-developer-exploitation

    Fairfield is yet another town being exploited by developers using 8-30g for personal gain without regard to the existing neighborhoods. I live in a modest neighborhood that fought a developer's efforts to build 3 x 3 story townhouse units on .11acres of property in a minimum .22 acre build zone. This is a neighborhood away from shopping and mass transportation. So when his original efforts to subdivide and build a new single (non "affordable") home on the lot were denied, he chose to exploit 8-30g. Doesn't seem to be in the spirit of the law.
    Please sign the petition. The rendering in the petition is scale of this particular developers proposal. Even the State's designated planning agency, the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council voted unanimously against this when it was referrednto them for review.

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  6. learning about the 8-30g debacle has been a horrific nightmare for me...i just purchased my new dream home 6 mo ago,paying a lot more money to live in this neighborhood,because it was away from dense ,
    run down,unfavorable neighborhoods.i got a letter the other shocked that a developer wants to cram 105 mixed income houses in across the street using the 8-30g statute.Im all for affordable,but not when it destroys the value and comforts of living here..This was done all because of spite and greed...He has no interest in helping the less fortunate and lower income people...im all for an over 55 type development at market value but this is not fair to us!

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