July 4, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
An effort to encourage towns and cities to work with developers to create more affordable housing won a partial victory in the recently concluded legislative session.
The legislature decided to give incentives to municipalities that create high-density housing zones and approve permits in those zones, appropriating $4 million for technical assistance and incentive payments.
Lawmakers also created a study group to report on affordable housing needs and goals by Feb. 1, 2008.
The bill's backers hoped legislators would approve money to reimburse additional school costs that towns racked up as a result of the new housing. They were also looking for project-based rental assistance payments to help developers make housing affordable. Both of those measures failed.
David Fink, a spokesman for the effort spearheaded by the Partnership for Strong Communities, said the group made real progress.
"If we were going from New York to California, we made it to Colorado," Fink said.
Advocates say that the state's housing prices increased 66 percent from 2000 to 2006, that the state is losing its 25- to 34-year-old residents at alarming rates, that the number of mid-sized, affordable housing units is decreasing, and that households earning the median income are unable to buy homes at the median sales price in 154 of the state's 169 municipalities.
The state already has affordable housing laws on the books that advocates say are valuable tools but that critics say make it easy for developers to muscle municipalities into denser housing complexes that bring increased costs.
The bill was an initiative of the Partnership for Strong Communities and is the product of more than a year of study among a broad-based coalition of developers, housing advocates, real estate agents, municipal officials, politicians and bankers.
The group initially asked for $60 million from the state's budget surplus and Fink said the need for affordable housing incentives may quickly exhaust the money the effort did get.
"I'm not sure how far that $4 million is going to go, but that's OK," he said.
"We got the housing issue onto the front burner," Fink said. "That's not because we're good. That's because everybody - once confronted with it - realized, wow, this is an issue."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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