Housing supply

Connecticut’s lagging residential construction is hurting affordable housing supply, experts say

Shaurice Bacon feels stuck in her home, an apartment with not enough space for her family.

She lived in public housing in Bridgeport for two decades. She researched other low-cost apartments, applied to housing choice voucher programs, and explored rent-to-own options. She expanded her search to include Hartford, New Haven, New Britain and anywhere in Fairfield County.

But she couldn’t find anything available in her price range.

“No matter how much I change it, how much I rearrange my furniture, redecorate, I feel like I’m stuck,” Bacon said.

No state in the country has enough available and affordable housing for the lowest income renters. Connecticut is short of 86,717 available and affordable rental units for extremely low-income renters, according to estimates by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

For Bacon, that means she and her two sons are crammed into a small apartment. She got the place when she was young and pregnant with her first daughter, not knowing exactly what the move would mean.

For other low-income Connecticut residents, that means they’re burdened with rent — they pay more than a third of their income for housing costs.

New residential construction, especially multi-family housing, has lagged in Connecticut for years, a problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, industry experts said.

During the pandemic, developers have seen rising material and labor costs for new construction projects. And some of what was built was billed as luxury housing, unaffordable for low-income people.

“It’s always been a challenge, so you know developers can’t really produce affordable housing for low-income tenants,” said Andrew Aurand, vice president of research at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “I think what we’ve seen during the pandemic is we’ve seen construction costs go up. Even before the pandemic, we heard about labor shortages.

The past year has seen a decline in the total number of building permits as well as a change in the proportion of multi-family buildings to single-family dwellings.

At the end of November, dwellings with five or more units accounted for just over 37% of new housing starts. In 2020 it was over 55% and in 2019 it was 59%, according to permit data compiled by the state Department of Community Economic Development.

And for the first time since 2018, Connecticut is not expected to exceed 4,400 new homes in one year for 2021.

The biggest obstacle to building more multifamily housing in Connecticut is restrictive municipal zoning laws, experts, developers and state officials said.

A few groups have announced legislative goals to reform zoning law. These include the introduction of a “fair share” law that would require localities to create more affordable housing, reduce minimum lot sizes and allow mixed housing near train stations, among other measures. .

“We know in Connecticut we need more housing overall,” said Nick Abbott, assistant coordinator at DesegregateCT. “Our new home clearance in 2021, at least the first 11 months, was the lowest it has been in a comparable decade period.”

The group’s 2022 legislative program includes a measure to push transit-oriented communities by allowing mixed housing near train stations. They are also advocating for smaller lot sizes, to allow more housing to be built on parcels of land.

DesegregateCT also encourages municipalities to create unified land use commissions by merging commissions with neighboring towns, according to its website.

A new coalition of about 20 organizations is also pushing for a fair share law in Connecticut that would require municipalities to build a share of affordable housing to meet state-determined needs. The overall initiative is called Growing Together Connecticut.

The state would also establish incentives and enforcement tactics, said Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance. The alliance is an organizing member of the steering committee.

“From our perspective, Connecticut has this kind of dual housing crisis,” Boggs said in an interview.

“On the one hand, we are one of the most expensive states in the country, and on the other hand, we are one of the most segregated.”

Opponents of zoning reform bills introduced last year said it takes too much power away from localities and pushes one-size-fits-all solutions for housing affordability in Connecticut cities. Officials representing Greenwich, Darien and parts of Stamford were among those who spoke out against the changes.

Cities in Connecticut are working on plans to increase the stock of affordable housing. Plans must be submitted by July by law and must be amended every five years.

“Nowadays you see more of a percentage of homes being set aside for affordability,” said Greg Ugalde, president of T&M Building Co. Inc.

Melissa Kaplan-Macey, vice president of state programs and Connecticut director at the Regional Plan Association, said simplifying the process for developers and clarifying exactly how long it would take would help.

“I think one of the easiest things we can do is streamline the process and make it transparent for everyone,” Kaplan-Macey said.

Zoning regulations that don’t allow large-scale multi-family housing in some parts of the city have made it difficult for developers to find enough land to build on – the more units that can be placed in a space, the bigger it is. is affordable to build,” said Nandini Natarajan, chief executive of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

And delays in obtaining permits can lengthen the process, driving up costs, she said.

“It takes a special developer with deep pockets to really hold its own,” Natarajan said.

The group recently revised its guidelines for awarding its $10 million low-income housing tax credit program.

The program is one of the state’s main funds for creating affordable housing. Typically, developers combine it with other funding from the state housing department or other programs run by the financial authority.

The updated guidelines aim to bring more resources to underserved communities and include a pre-application process, updated distinctions between preservation and construction projects, and new sustainability measures.

Zoning issues are also related to public infrastructure and access to public water and sewage systems, said Michael Santoro, a specialist at the Ministry of Housing.

Ugalde said he hopes the increased political spotlight on affordable housing issues will affect changes that will make it easier to develop more units.

While Bacon has been in her apartment for years and cares about the community, she hopes to find something bigger soon and wants to keep tabs on a new place.

Right now her baby is sleeping in a portable crib. She wants him and her teenage son to each have their own room, the baby with a crib all to himself. Her budget is $700 to $800, but most of what she’s found in that range are one-bedroom apartments.

“When you see rent that starts at $1,300 that’s way out of your budget, it’s really, really disheartening,” Bacon said.

Reporters Nicole Funaro and Luther Turmelle contributed reporting.