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Money For Housing, Green Buildings An Essential Investment

Hartford Courant

April 25, 2009

The author and government expert David Osborne visited state officials earlier this year and recommended they deal with the fiscal crisis by focusing not on what to cut, but on what to keep. It was good advice because it forces lawmakers to set real priorities.

One of those priorities must be responsible growth. The low-density, auto-reliant, sprawling development that has marched through the state since World War II can no longer be sustained. It causes too much pollution, energy use, replicative infrastructure and social isolation. The state must encourage sensible increases in density in city and town centers and other areas of concentrated development.

To this end, it is troubling to see two strong smart-growth efforts in jeopardy.

One is the HomeConnecticut program. This law, passed in 2007 and patterned on a successful Massachusetts model, provides incentives to municipalities to create affordable housing in smart-growth areas such as town and transit centers. The General Assembly appropriated a very reasonable $4 million for planning and technical assistance, as well as bonuses for towns that move ahead and build workforce housing.

Lack of affordable housing is becoming the state's economic Achilles heel. It encourages young professionals and skilled workers to leave the state, and makes it difficult for towns to hire teachers, public safety officers and other vital employees. So perhaps not surprisingly, the response to HomeConnecticut has been overwhelming. More than 60 towns have either applied for planning grants or are in the process.

But now some lawmakers want to grab the funds to help balance the budget. That would be terribly shortsighted, not to mention somewhat illusory.

According to the state Office of Policy and Management, which administers the program, more than half the money is already out the door or on the way. There's little to be gained from stopping the program, and much to be lost. If the state begins to live more compactly, we will live less expensively.

By the same token, a bill that would provide tax credits for green buildings now has an uncertain future in the General Assembly.

Here and across the country, about 40 percent of energy is used in buildings. Green technology can reduce that substantially. The tax credit would, like HomeConnecticut, encourage transit-oriented development in town centers and serve as a stimulant to the state's economy.

If we are serious about greening the future, we need both of these programs.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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