Housing Panel Targets Zoning, Suburbs

Thomas Breen photoPass an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Let the housing authority build outside of New Haven. Set up a public database of affordable housing resources. And create a new affordable housing commission to stay on top of local, state, and federal policy changes.

Those are just a handful of the dozens of recommendations the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force plans to send to the Board of Alders regarding how to legislatively address the city’s affordable housing crisis.

During a 45-minute hearing in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall on Wednesday night, the task force’s eight members read through a draft report of policy recommendations they plan to vote on at a follow up meeting on Jan. 24.

Broken into six general areas of priority, the recommendations spanned adjustments to city zoning laws, regional collaboration and advocacy, the creation of new affordable housing and the preservation of existing affordable housing. Each recommendation pointed towards a larger goal of allowing low- and middle-income New Haveners to live in safe and convenient housing without going bankrupt in the process.

“There’s been a robust public engagement from stakeholders at meetings, between meetings,” said Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg, who serves as the non-voting facilitator of the task force. “Over the course of these meetings, we’ve heard from residents, from state and fed policy experts, from elected officials, developers, advocates, activists. It’s been a really robust and important discussion.”

Greenberg promised that the task force will release a final draft of its recommendations several days before the task force’s Jan. 24 vote, so that the public can have a chance to review and provide comments via email. After the task force’s vote on Jan. 24, it will deliver its recommendations to the Board of Alders, which which can then host its own set of public hearings and deliberations around which proposed policies to enact as city law.

The task force itself was created in March 2018, and held meetings in June, July, September, October, and November of last year. Dozens of New Haveners testified for hours about the dire need in this city for housing for working class and middle class New Haveners at a time when the city’s downtown is experiencing a construction boom in primarily market rate and luxury housing.

Over the past six months, affordable housing activists have closely monitored the task force’s progress and have even issued their own comprehensive set of recommendations on the issue.

On Wednesday night, Greenberg said the task force has broken out its recommendations into six key areas: ensuring continued action on the creation and preservation of affordable housing; ensuring the city has a wide spectrum of housing options for people of all income levels; increased land use efficiency; working regionally to promote affordable housing and economic, racial, and ethnic integration; improving the quality and stability of existing affordable housing; and improving access to affordable housing resources.

The task force members who took the lead in drafting recommendations within each of those policy areas presented their ideas Tuesday night to the roughly two dozen members of the public sitting in the back rows of the Aldermanic Chambers.

Continued Action

Greenberg pointed out that the city has a number of boards, departments, and agencies that work on issues related to affordable housing, but no single dedicated administrative or legislative body charged with monitoring, addressing, and making recommendations around affordable housing.

“We are recommending the Board of Alders create a permanent Affordable Housing Commission,” he said, “to oversee city, state, and federal policy; make recommendations, request document, invite guests, and hold public hearings on affordable housing.”

This body should be staffed by the executive director of the city’s anti-blight Livable City Initiative (LCI), he said, and should include elected officials, subject experts, and affected residents. He said the body should be responsible for issuing an annual report to the Board of Alders to check in on the status of affordable housing in the city.

Regional Pressure

Elm City Communities / Housing Authority of New Haven Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton walked through some of the draft recommendations around creating new affordable housing inside and outside of New Haven, with an emphasis on putting pressure on surrounding suburbs to do their part in housing low- and middle-income residents.

She said that the 15 towns and cities in South Central Connecticut have a population of around 570,000. Around 7 percent of the housing units in the region are affordable, she said, and the vast majority of those affordable housing units fall in New Haven, West Haven, and Meriden.

“Clearly, this issue needs to be addressed on a regional basis,” she said, so that towns like Bethany, Madison, Branford, and others cannot get away with having between 1 and 5 percent of their housing units affordable in comparison to New Haven’s 30 percent.

Some of her recommendations included:

• Have the city engage the South Central Regional Council of Government (SCRCOG) to study and address the disproportionate siting of affordable housing in cities like New Haven, and the significant under-representation of said housing in surrounding suburbs.

• Support statewide legislation that expands the geographic authority of the Housing Authority of New Haven so that it can develop affordable housing in surrounding towns and suburbs.

• Advocate for the change of state statute language like “protecting community character” that tend to preclude the development of low-income housing in wealthier suburbs.

DuBois-Walton also listed a suite of draft recommendations around creating and preserving affordable housing within New Haven. During a previous task force meeting, DuBois-Walton and LCI Executive Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo said the city currently needs more than 25,000 new affordable housing units to meet resident demand.

Those city-specific recommendations included:

• Expand permitting for rooming houses, and adjust current zoning law regarding accessory dwelling units and minimum lot area requirements.

• Establish a housing trust fund that would direct resources earned from market rate housing developments towards the creation of new affordable housing.

• Advocate for additional state and federal dollars to focus on transit-oriented development and reinvestment in quality housing in low-income neighborhoods.

Land Use

City Plan Commission Chair Ed Mattison took the lead on recommendations related to zoning law changes with the goal of increasing land use efficiency.

“There’s only a certain amount of land in the city,” he said. “We don’t always use it as well as we might.”

Mattison’s recommendations included:

• Create an inventory of empty lots and make a serious effort to figure out who the owners are and what the obstacles are to building new housing on them.

• Pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require private developers to set aside a certain percentage of housing units in new developments to be affordable. Mattison advocated for hiring experts on inclusionary zoning to conduct a study of New Haven’s housing developments and issue its own recommendations as to what exactly a New Haven inclusionary zoning ordinance should look like, so that “we get the most housing we could get out of these developers,” he said.

• Allow single-family houses to rent two rooms to lodgers, rather than just one.

• Further reduce off-street parking requirements.

• Amend zoning law to allow housing in business districts.

• Ease regulations on cooperative living arrangements, and increasing regulations on AirBnB and other short-term rentals.

Improve Quality Of Existing Affordable Housing

Fair Rent Commissioner Otis Johnson, Jr. said one of the keys to ensuring that the city’s current stock of affordable housing is safe, clean, and well-maintained is to recommit to the department he heads.

 

“The Board of Alders and the administration should reaffirm its commitment,” he said, “to the mission of the Fair Rent Commission and ultimately provide the necessary staffing to be effective in assisting tenants with affordability.”

Some of his other recommendations included:

• Allow the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven to take over the housing and redevelopment work currently housed in LCI.

• Request that the City Plan Commission make recommendations on number of rooming houses the city needs, and what changes in zoning laws would encourage the creation of that number.

• Provide additional staff to LCI office of housing code enforcement to enhance housing code inspection process.

• Work with state and federal agencies to investigate and seek criminal penalties for property owners who are not in compliance with housing code law.

Accessibility

Christian Community Action Executive Director Bonita Grubbs rounded out the presentation of draft recommendations by talking about how to ensure that all city residents are aware of existing resources designed to support families in need of affordable housing.

She called for the city to invest in a database and local system that accurately documents the existence of affordable housing resources in New Haven.

“The system should be user friendly and easy for residents to access and navigate,” she said.

Some of her other recommendations included:

• Advocate for a statewide and regional database for affordable housing.

• Create a down-payment security deposit assistance program.

• Develop a pool of funds to be used for rapid rehousing to help address homelessness and housing instability.

“This is a sense,” Greenberg said, “a pretty detailed sense, but a sense of the direction the task force is going based on all the conversation we’ve had.”

He reiterated that the task force will have a final vote on the recommendations on Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Once the recommendations are sent to the Board of Alders, he said, a whole new process of committee hearings and deliberations will begin. The public will then have opportunity to share further comments, suggestions, and input on the various recommendations before anything is written into law.

“I would encourage you to remain involved,” he said to the city residents and activists sitting in the Aldermanic Chambers before him, “because this conversation has just been getting started.”

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posted by: wendy1 on January 10, 2019  12:19pm

Another BS moment brought to you by cityhall and well meaning citizens who haven’t learned their lesson yet.  A total waste of time…. a bunch of folks who voted for the 11% tax increase and a poor showing of “liberals” who give a s***.  The sound system is worse than Yale’s, bought at Walmart no doubt, so most of us could not hear the mumbling of local bureaucrats.  Liam did not speak.

The press was there but the best story was mine.  I hid a 90 lb. homeless female in cityhall for the night since the building is lit and empty with mucho BR’s.  Unfortunately she was kicked out at 10P into the cold.  Next day I put her up at 360 and NOW I have to get her housing by Jan. 24.  I am seeking press involvement.

posted by: Patricia Kane on January 10, 2019  12:25pm

There are some excellent suggestions in this preliminary report and much thanks to all those who contributed their time and expertise to solving a problem that is so basic to people.
  The federal government pulled back on funding housing decades ago so affordable housing has not kept up with the need.
  We need to reverse the federal budget bloated by perpetual wars and return our focus to meeting domestic needs.

posted by: observer1 on January 10, 2019  12:28pm

There exists a serious need for affordable, clean, and safe places to live in New Haven. Regionalization or a county approach to the aforementioned housing would solve a lot of problems. County wide schools, fire, police, public works and so forth would also solve a lot of economic and taxation problems. Politically this approach is dead on arrival.

posted by: Bill Saunders on January 10, 2019  1:38pm

Wendy1,

I seriously question your judgement here.

You have taken a vulnerable, homeless woman and placed her in a vulnerable situation with potential repercussions besides another night in the cold.

You should have put her up in your vacant apartment to begin with.

posted by: Esbey on January 10, 2019  2:18pm

Almost all of these ideas are great. Some require action from the state, which will be very hard in a suburban dominated state, but let’s try hard. 

Inclusionary zoning can work in a super-hot market where nearly all of the profits of new development are flowing to the existing owners of scarce land (a situation where there are a ton of tear downs of existing buildings for new development because of a lack of available land.) 

BUT it is a *very* high tax, placed exclusively on new housing development. It can very easily *decrease* the supply of housing, including of moderately affordable housing, especially in a housing market like New Haven which is growing slowly but is no where near a “boom”.  We should tread extremely carefully here.  For once, a professionally staffed commission might be appropriate, to allow for time and study.

posted by: HewNaven on January 10, 2019  4:01pm

The dark political genius of the “protecting the character of the community” argument is that it allows those who employ it to avoid responsibility for their obstructionism. They portray themselves as “stakeholders” merely trying to keep their neighborhood from getting hurt. Even worse, at a time that celebrates activism, many of these community-character protectors pose as righteous neighborhood activists.

http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/12/24/dark-political-genius-behind-protecting-communitys-character/ideas/connecting-california/

Here’s a more local example (Westport, CT) defining local “character”

Within the context of the POCD, “character” refers to those elements that,
taken together, help make Westport both desirable and different from other
communities.  While the concept of community character is unique to each
person, it seems that residents of Westport agree that it includes:
 The overall physical appearance of the community,
 The scenic resources and scenic views in Westport (such as views of
wooded landscapes and the Saugatuck River),
 The natural environment and the preservation of trees and open
space,
 The small scale village centers (Downtown, Saugatuck), 
 The traditional residential neighborhoods (Old Hill, Greens Farms), 
 Key community resources (Winslow Park, Compo Beach, Longshore), 
 The design and scale of individual buildings and sites,
 The historic buildings and places that remind us of our shared past
(historic houses, historic public buildings, the Cribari Bridge, etc.),
 The day‐to‐day experiences in the community,
 The local facilities and events that make Westport special, and
 the overall personality of the community.
These are just some of the unique physical qualities that, together, define the
look, feel and essence of Westport and contribute to its unique character.

https://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=11624

posted by: wendy1 on January 10, 2019  4:19pm

Bill—that wasn’t feasible at the time.  She needed immediate aid.  I gave her cash and led her to the BR first.  Homeless have hid there before as the building is huge and empty and actually would function well as a 24/7 warming center—-currently the city has only one.  I suppose you could consider the train depot and the library as warming centers.  My husband mentioned the post office near IKEA is open 24/7 at the entrance for box holders.  So far the city talks a good game but nothing is going to change and I bet you $10 that elderly services will not help me house this 75 y.o.  If I take her to YNHH, they will kick her out even faster.  I am lucky that so far 360 management is cooperating with me.

posted by: robn on January 10, 2019  5:06pm

I don’t think it’s possible to build affordable housing for the median NHV household income of about $39K per year. If you follow the old rule of only spending a third of your income on housing…that’s about $1000 of rent that family can afford to pay per month. Even if you develop a 1000sf apartment for as little as $250,000 (half of what HAHN is currently paying), assuming the property is fairly taxed at it’s construction cost, accounting for property tax and upkeep you lose money every year for 20 years. If you double that rent (to what a lot of people are paying these days) it still earns 30% less for a developer than if you just stuck the money in the stock market for an average 6% earning.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 10, 2019  5:17pm

Observer1, I’m afraid you’re right about the political feasiblility of taking a regional approach, at this time. In the longer run, I’m a bit more optimistic. Towns like Hamden and West Haven are increasingly similar in their demographics to New Haven and have similar interests. Towns like North Haven and Woodbridge have different demographics. But even they will presumably recognize that the lack of affordable housing imposes real economic costs.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 11, 2019  8:02am

Robn, the constraints you describe are real, but there are some partial solutions. For small households, substantially smaller apartments are an option. In CT, nearly 30% of households consist of just one person. New developments offer studios with less than 500 square feet to serve this market. And it is important to preserve existing affordable units, which is usually cheaper than building new units.

posted by: robn on January 11, 2019  8:26am

KM,

But on a square footage per person basis, the math doesn’t change. In any event, we’ve heard a constant refrain from housing advocates that single mothers with children are the most in need of affordable housing. You can’t raise children in a 15’x32’, 500 sf studio.

posted by: robn on January 11, 2019  10:00am

KM,

I’m repoking at my numbers and for now will retract them.

posted by: BevHills730 on January 11, 2019  12:00pm

The Affordable Housing Taskforce and Room For All coalition have done painstaking work to rigorously identify many avenues towards more affordable housing, even when the options are limited. 

Meanwhile Mayoral Candidate Wendy Hamilton calls this a BS moment.  Then she claims the more effective strategy is an ad hoc one that includes sneaking people into city hall only to have them kicked out when temperatures are the coldest. 

Should be an interesting campaign!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 11, 2019  1:47pm

I am hopeful that some good with come from the Affordable Housing Task Force’s efforts. I also have some concerns. I felt that Otis Johnson made the most important comments at Wednesday evening’s hearing. He expressed dismay about the transfer of attainable homeowner-occupied housing in New Haven’s neighborhoods to absentee landlord-ownership.

The affordable housing crisis in New Haven is nestled within a much larger issue. That larger issue is the dispossession of property in the City by a growing number of absentee owners, including non profit and quasi-governmental developers. For many years, property in New Haven has been transferred from a diverse network of individual property owners to speculative rental income investors. Through my testimony, participation in meetings, and commentary, I have tried to bring this larger crisis to the attention of Task Force and Room for All Coalition, but I feel like I have been unsuccessful thus far.

I cannot support any policy or initiative that will result in an increase in the number of absentee landlords, the amount of property owned by absentee investors, or the number of dwelling units owned by absentee landlords. I worry that many of the initiatives that the Task Force and the Room for All Coalition have been supporting may help provide some additional affordable housing units, but at the cost of contributing towards New Haven’s larger crisis of property dispossession. The focus cannot be on providing affordable housing units at any cost, we must also deal with the deeper problem.

Hew Naven,

Sometimes “neighborhood character” can be code word for ethnic homogeneity, but it is frequently used to refer to other, perfectly legitimate characteristics of places. You may find value in checking out Chapter 4 of New Haven’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan, which is rife with terms like “traditional character” and “historic character”.
https://www.newhavenct.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?blobid=25809

posted by: Dennis Serf on January 12, 2019  12:38am

A few items stick out to me:

1) “Greenberg promised that the task force will release a final draft of its recommendations several days before the task force’s Jan. 24 vote, so that the public can have a chance to review and provide comments via email.”

How generous - the little people among us get ‘several days’ to review and submit comments ‘via email’

2) Karen DuBois-Walton: “the city currently needs more than 25,000 new affordable housing units”
25,000 seems like a very big number. Using a very conservative/low avg of 1.5 people per unit (1 household of 1 person and 1 household of 2 people) that suggest we need units for 37,500 people! Current New Haven population is 130,000 people. Where are these 37,500 people living today?

3) No mention of how much the Commission and everything else mentioned will cost the EXISTING taxpayers. Very convenient.

What the city needs is more home ownership and a mix (middle, upper, and affordable housing) of OWNER-OCCUPIED housing.

Dennis Serfilippi
https://www.ournewhaven.org/

posted by: earthlobbyist on January 12, 2019  7:24am

Affordable assumes means a person has the income from any source. The HUD 2019 Free Market Rent for a 3 Bedroom shelter is $1788/month n New Haven County . For this to be affordable a person would have to make $5960/month or $71,520/year. For $1788/month a person could own a two family house if they were collecting the $1200/month rent and living in the building ($200,000 @5%x30yrs + 6000 taxes/yr + 1200 Insurance +.2400 extra = $1900/month <$1000 rent collection> = $900/month for ownership)  The numbers get better for a three family and even better for a SRO Rooming house (Which should only be owner occupied.). Owner Occupancy is the key to safe secure housing and neighborhoods *IMO* as the residents have a financial investment. Residents MUST make an investment in their shelter as physiological and safety needs are the essential foundations of a happy life and safe secure neighborhoods.  Paying for Housing First before technology, recreation or anything else is an essential choice in the establishment of personally affordable housing. I have been a REALTOR since 1996 seeing people making it or failing in every neighborhood in every city in New Haven County and beyond.

posted by: 1644 on January 12, 2019  10:15am

JH:  Liam Brennan and New Haven Legal Assistance, as well as Housing Court judges, have been strong forces for large, absentee landlords.  Many of the they advocate to make it difficult to avoid and evict troublesome tenants mean that massive scale is required to stay solvent.  The cost of tenants who don’t pay their rent, of course, translates to higher rents for those who do, making housing overall more expensive.

posted by: win win on January 12, 2019  1:17pm

Glad to see alders and commissioners are finally listening to what the community has been saying and experiencing for years. As the city-yale plan for further gentrification has intensified the perfect storm or rising housing costs and flatlining or declining Wages are acutely felt. Coupled with the employment crisis, the gobbling up of taxable land by a tax-exempt entity, and political leaders cowardice in asking Yale (locally) and the wealthy (statewide) to contribute their fair share, more and more of us are being pushed up and held down. Inequality is worsening.

The problem is complex to be sure. It will require multi-pronged, comprehensive solutions. Thankfully the city is at least now trying to come up with them.

@robn thanks for pointing out the challenges. But if you can offer nothing but criticism of those who are actually trying to make change, if you can do nothing but tear others down, if you can’t offer anything constructive then you’re just taking making these problems worse and frankly polluting this space with a whole bunch of toxicity.

posted by: robn on January 12, 2019  1:49pm

WINWIN,

Math isn’t toxic; its just math. Anyway I’m still checking my numbers so stand by.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 12, 2019  3:31pm

Robn, thanks. And I see small apartments as only a partial solution. While 500 square feet might be adequate for a parent with a small child, I suspect very few people would want to share such a space with a teenager.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 13, 2019  8:00am

Dennis Serf, a clarification on one of your points. DuBois Walton did not say that New Haven needs more than 25,000 new units (although the press coverage on this point was not good). She that this number of existing units are not affordable for their tenants.

As Patricia Kane and others have said, the report makes many good recommendations. But there is an issue of scale. Let’s say that the city required that 20% of the units in new large developments be affordable and that such developments add 500 total units per year (actual growth is likely to be lower). This would increase the affordable housing stock by 100 units per year, a good thing but nowhere near the need.

The city’s affordability problem is primarily a matter of incomes, not the number of housing units. A household with a $30,000 income (well above the poverty level) can afford a rent of $800, well below market level of rents.

posted by: BevHills730 on January 13, 2019  12:30pm

Kevin,

Good point on income.  Any strategy to address affordable housing must also focus on improving the quality of jobs that are available to New Haveners.

posted by: Patricia Kane on January 14, 2019  9:50am

It’s important to look beyond the struggle to provide housing to understand why we even have such a struggle.
  At one time the national government funded housing on a big scale. I’m not sure who was president when the funding was cut, but it might have been either Nixon or Reagan.
  Right after mental hospitals were shuttered and the residents released without housing in place, we started to see people sleeping on benches in Grand Central Station and hanging on street corners locally.
  A combination of the withdrawal of government funding and the release of vulnerable people created this crisis and has yet to be solved.
  When we look at the cost of endless wars (which only oil investors want) and the growing desperation at home - evidenced by the 67 deaths a day from opioid use - the solution has to be to change priorities.
  We can have a war and death economy that will benefit the merchants of death or we can transform to non-polluting energy sources (as they’ve been doing in Europe for decades!) and invest in free education and health care for all. The Danes have both and are the happiest people on earth!
  The wealth of a country is useless if it’s in the hands of 1/2 of 1%, such as the Yale Corporation Endowment, and not being utilized to invest in people.
    I greatly appreciate the time and effort this group has put into generating solutions and hope something tangible results.
    CT is at the top in income inequality.
    We need solutions at many levels of government. Maybe a peaceful revolution.
    Where are the unions and why aren’t they out there with yellow vests?

posted by: 1644 on January 14, 2019  12:40pm

PK:
1, You realize that the yellow vest folks are France’s version of Trump supporters, right?  They are rural folks protesting fossil fuel taxes designed to retrain gasoline and diesel consumption. 
2. The endless wars are promoted as much by our left-wing media and liberals as by oil interests, although our massive Persian Gulf presence was started by Jimmy Carter to protect our oil sources.  Our interventions in Somalia, Syria, Libya, and Iraq were all motivated at least in part by humanitarian, not economic concerns, as we sought to impose our cultural values on other peoples.  In large part, Trump election represents a rejection of Wilson’s interventionism, and a return to Washington’ s aversion to foreign entanglements.
3. Northern European countries have an aversion to pain-killers, which likely cuts down on addiction.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 14, 2019  2:54pm

earthlobbyists,

You are exactly correct. Now the challenge is: how do low-income households acquire the skills and resources necessary to buy, own, maintain, and rent out a two- or three-family house?

1644,

I suspect it might be a kind of cycle wherein landlord’s have a bad tenant so they try to make up for those expenses elsewhere like by not repairing other units, which leaves those tenants annoyed and more likely to not pay rent, pay late, or not take care of their apartment, thus contributing to a vicious cycle on a mass scale. Part of the answer might be to somehow lower rents while simultaneously convincing all tenants to take great care of their apartment and not incur unreasonable costs upon the landlord. This may be feasible to do in situations where tenants rent from owner-occupied landlords as opposed to non-owner-occupied and absentee landlords.

posted by: wendy1 on January 15, 2019  11:14am

A lot of good comments here.  I want a mix of rich and poor in every building and every neighborhood.  If anyone wants to see what 500 sq. ft. looks like, call me cause that’s what I’m renting at 360( next to the electrical closet) for $1600 plus wifi and utilities/month.  Yes the building is clean and safe with many amenities and has the best location ever.  It is the first residence in the country to have it’s own hydrogen cell (mentioned in Neil Chamber’s book).  John Wargo of Yale SOF took his students for a tour.  The building is a veritable United Nations but houses only 10% poorer people (Section 8).  There are 500 apts. of various sizes.  The land under it was sold by the city for one dollar.

I would love to see the BOA, an echo chamber for the sitting mayor, make a good decision on ANYTHING especially this one which is a survival issue.  I like Liam and all of his suggestions to the city.  Let’s see if they actually DO something.

posted by: wendy1 on January 15, 2019  9:47pm

P.S.  If anyone is interested in what happened to my “rescue”, there may be an article in the Register soon.