15 Routes Offered To Affordable Housing

Thomas Breen PhotoPass an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Be stricter with bad landlords, and celebrate the responsible ones. Ease up on minimum lot area requirements. And regulate short-term rental services like Airbnb.

Those are four of the 15 specific policy recommendations recently put forward by a coalition of local affordable housing advocates.

The Room for All coalition submitted a 21-page letter to the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force that describes in detail the 15 different recommendations for creating, preserving, and increasing affordable housing in New Haven.

Friday was the last day to submit public testimony and recommendations to the Affordable Housing Task Force, a group of city officials and housing advocates that has been meeting every month since June to discuss the current state and future need of affordable places to live in New Haven. The task force plans to deliver a suite of affordable housing-specific policy recommendations to the Board of Alders by the end of December.

A month and a half after an October press conference outside of City Hall, where the coalition called for the task force to be transparent, inclusive, and action-oriented, legal aid attorney and Room for All coalition member Liam Brennan submitted the list of recommendations to the task force’s non-voting facilitator, Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg, by email on Friday.

Click here to download the Room for All coalition’s full list of recommendations.

The letter calls on the task force to heed the recommendations from the coalition’s diverse assemblage of local social justice and neighborhood activist groups, including Mothers and Others for Justice, New Haven Rising, CT Bail Fund’s Housing Not Jails Collective, Youth Continuum, Y2Y, Dixwell-Newhallville Watchdog & Advocacy Committee, New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLAA) and Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven.

It also calls on the task force to push for the establishment of a working group to be led by a city employee that would be charged with making these recommendations a reality.

“As many of our members know very well,” the letter reads, “much of a person’s life is wrapped up in creating a home for one’s self. The inability to afford quality, stable housing is a burden shared by too many of our city’s residents.”

Greenberg welcomed the coalition’s letter and recommendations, and said that the task force will take the Room for All coalition’s notes into consideration at it drafts its own recommendations for the alders.

“Over the past six months the Affordable Housing Task Force has held five meetings,” Greenberg told the Independent by email, “heard hours of public testimony, and received hundreds of pages of policy briefs, reports, memos, and ideas from stakeholders, experts, and others in the New Haven community. In the past week we have received around ten additional documents ranging from brief emails to long and detailed reports.

“It is a testament to the seriousness of the affordable housing crisis that we have had such sustained public engagement with the process,” he continued. “The feedback, comments, and ideas we have received will be invaluable as the Task Force works on recommendations to send to the Board of Alders to develop policy to ensure that everyone in New Haven has a safe and affordable place to live.”

The coalition’s 15 recommendations fall under four categories: using the zoning code to create more affordable housing, preserving existing naturally occurring affordable housing, protecting the rights of the city’s homeless residents, and regulating short-term rental services like Airbnb, which allow property owners to turn parts of their homes into temporary hotels.

The 21-page document includes 43 footnotes, research into comparable affordable housing strategies in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., and recommended implementation strategies for its various recommendations. It also calls on the task force and the alders to keep the city’s homess and low-income residents at the table as they make decisions on how to address their needs.

“Before providing our detailed recommendations below,” the letter reads, “we want to make one overarching recommendation that this work continue with urgency and with input from those people who are most impacted by the lack of affordable housing.”

Zoning Code Updates

The letter includes three proposed updates to the city zoning code with the goal of creating more affordable housing. Those updates are:

• The adoption of an inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require all new buildings with 10 units or more to set aside 10 to 20 percent of their units to rent at below market rates. Half of those set-aside units should be reserved for residents earning 60 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), the letter recommends, or $70,480 out of an $88,100 benchmark for a family of four. The letter recommends that the city use tax abatements to require landlords to rent the rest of the set-aside units to residents who earn 25 to 60 percent of the AMI.

“Setting a standard inclusionary zoning policy for all large-scale developments will provide a much-needed predictability to the development landscape,” the letter reads, “allowing developers to appropriately plan and budget for their buildings.”

• Allow for the creation of accessory dwelling units in residential zones, thereby allowing current homeowners to convert garages, storage sheds, pool houses, and other small accessory structures on their property to be used for housing. “Opening these structures up to be living quarters could provide a significant number of new housing units on the rental market,” the letter reads.

Local architecture student and urban planning expert Jonathan Hopkins also submitted written testimony to the Affordable Housing Task Force in which he requested that the city study the feasibility of allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Click here to download Hopkins’s submission.

“Before we consider empowering out-of-town developers to build absentee landlord-owned rental housing,” Hopkins writes, “let’s first consider empowering New Haven’s existing homeowners to build ADUs. In the name of preserving property values, today’s overly restrictive zoning ordinance has artificially stifled local entrepreneurialism, development, and investment in the City’s neighborhoods by the City’s residents.”

•  Ease the zoning code’s minimum lot area requirements. Even the highest density residential zones in the city’s zoning code require a minimum lot area of 5,400 square feet, or .12 acres, in order to house a residential building. “The current minimum lot area requirements unduly limit the city’s ability to build new housing and to replace old housing,” the letter reads, “which in turn drives up the cost of the housing that exists.”

The coalition also calls on the city to conduct a comprehensive review of city-owned empty lots in residential areas. In its own review of city land records, the letter reads, the coalition found at least 50 such city-owned empty lots. Affordable housing-focused builders like the nonprofit Beulah Land Development Corporation are eager to develop on said lots, the coalition argues, but are unduly hindered by having to get relief from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) for nearly every project. currently owns a number of lots that could be used to build new housing if it were not for the minimum lot area.”

Preserving Existing Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing

The letter notes that, according to Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of New Haven Executive Director Karen Dubois-Walton and Livable City Initiative (LCI) Executive Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, the city’s housing authority maintains 6,000 affordable units. The housing authority also has a wait list of over 10,000 names.

Those people waiting for housing authority-protected apartments, the letter argues, are currently either homeless, living with friends, or living in Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH), which is privately owned and operated rental housing that happens to charge tenants less than 30 percent of their income.

The coalition recommends six different policies for preserving existing affordable housing. Those recommendations include:

•  Do a better job of holding slumlords accountable by drawing public attention to their negligence. “It is time to bring sunlight and publicity to the activity of city landlords who are degrading New Haven’s housing infrastructure and failing their tenants,” the letter reads.

It calls on the city to do a better job collecting and publicly presenting complaints against landlords, whether those complaints come from tenants or city inspectors. It says the information should be broken down by number of complaints against a landlord, number of complaints verified by inspectors, and how long it took for the landlord or property manager to address the problem.

The letter points to the New York City Public Advocate’s online list of the city’s 100 worst landlords, which tracks open housing code violations, building code violations, tax lien information.

•  Don’t just shame the bad landlords. Praise the good ones, too. The letter calls on the city to work with locally based banks to develop low interest or forgivable loans to assist landlords in making repairs to their properties; to provide tax incentives to local mom-and-pop landlords to encourage regular property maintenance; and acknowledge New Haven’s best landlords through mayoral proclamations or awards ceremonies.

•  Develop a centralized electronic system for tenants to file complaints about poorly managed properties. The city underuses SeeClickFix’s rental housing issues log, the letter argues, and LCI and and the Fair Rent Commission still rely exclusively on the submission of complaints via phone or in person.

“New Haven should develop a web-based complaint system that allows tenants to report perceived housing code violations, blight or other issues,” it reads.

Do Better By The City’s Homeless

The coalition’s letter dedicates another six recommendations for how better to protect and service the city’s homeless population. Those recommendations include:

•  Allowing the proposed Y2Y New Haven youth homeless shelter to open in a location that is “safe, welcoming, and accessible for young people experiencing homelessness.” The organization’s proposal to open a 20-bed shelter on Grand Avenue for young adults aged 18 to 24 caused an uproar among Wooster Square residents in May. The coalition calls on the Board of Alders to write a letter of support for Y2Y, and to allocate $10,000 each year to support the youth shelter’s operations.

•  Pass the Homeless Bill of Rights and the Resolution to Decriminalize Homelessness. Both items are currently awaiting consideration by the aldermanic Human Services Committee.

• Do a more accurate “point in time” count of the city’s homeless population that is not conducted in the dead of winter when many unsheltered people are not on the streets, and that does include those who are doubled up with friends and family out of economic insecurity.

Regulate Airbnb

The last section of the letter calls for the regulation of short-term rentals through services like Airbnb. According to the letter, over 300 New Haven homes currently participate in Airbnb, which allows participating property owners to rent out rooms for stays as short as a single night.

While convenient for tourists, the letter argues, these short-term rentals take housing units off of the market for city residents and thereby drive up the rentals costs of remaining available units.

Look to other cities currently grappling with this issue, the letter recommends. New Orleans, for example, is considering requiring permits for short-term rental units, and limiting those permits to residents who live in the city (as opposed to absentee landlords.) And Washington, D.C. already has laws on the book for Airbnb: the capital city also issues permits for short-term rentals, and limits their use as such to 90 days per year.

Below are previous articles about the Affordable Housing Task Force:

Empty Lots May Hold Housing Key
1,500 Affordable Units Down — 23,500 To Go
Housing Activists Press Task Force For Transparency
Challenge One: Define “Affordable”
Rent Struggles Highlight Housing Challenge

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posted by: robn on December 3, 2018  1:16pm

These people (as well as many members of the BOA) are delusional.
1) We already have one of the highest quantities of public housing per capita in the nation.
2) We already have many bureaucratic impediments to private development and don’t need more.
3) There is nothing natural about “Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing” (NOAH); private landlords charging tenants less than 30 percent of their income. This occurs because slumlords (are allowed by the city to) skim on upkeep to keep rent low. If upkeep goes up, so does rent.
4) I personally know elderly people in my hood that rent out rooms through AIRBNB to be able to stay in their houses. Its their right to do so as long as it doesn’t disturb their neighbors quiet enjoyment.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 3, 2018  1:33pm

Pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance.

I told you all over year ago to pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 1, 2017 8:43am

The “Inclusionary Zoning for Affordable Housing” Ordinance, which is an amendment to Title 41 of the Newark Zoning and Land Use Regulations, will require developers who are creating or rehabilitating housing projects of more than 30 units to set aside 20 percent of them as affordable housing. It mandates housing affordable to those in a different income levels ranging from 40 percent of the area’s median income to 80 percent. The marketing of the affordable units must give priority to Newark residents. Unlike New York City and other cities with inclusionary zoning, the Newark ordinance applies to all new residential development throughout the city, not just in designated areas. And, unlike other cities, the affordable units must be provided on site and not in other locations. The affordable units may involve home ownership as well as rentals. The Council also passed a measure to encourage developers to partner with Newark minority and women contractors as co-developers and to provide affordable housing. Such developments will receive tax abatements. It is part of Mayor Baraka’s strategy of creating more affordable housing throughout the city and enabling small Newark contractors to become developers in order to provide jobs and strengthen the city’s economy.Developers, with the approval of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, can make a voluntary cash payment into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund in lieu of constructing all or part of the income-restricted
units required by the legislation.


posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 3, 2018  2:42pm

Robn, the report does not call for creating more public housing units. While it recommends additional regulation in some contexts, it also proposes easing minimum lot sizes and facilitating the creation of accessory dwelling units, deregulatory steps. With regard to AirBnB, the report focuses on owners who rent entire units rather than rooms; I’m not aware of any evidence that the latter adversely affects housing markets.

I think most of the recommendations are good, But I don’t know that the city has statutory authority to grant the tax abatements the report proposes. And while there is a need for services targeted specifically to young homeless people, siting a shelter to serve them will be very difficult.

posted by: opin1 on December 3, 2018  4:19pm

@KM, does the proposed Airbnb rule exclude people who rent out their whole apartment/house, but only do so occasionally when they happen to be away? For example, if someone who just wants to rent out their home/apartment for some extra money when they are away for a weekend, or a week of vacation, etc?

My personal feeling is Airbnb should be regulated at the federal or state level. Rules should be the same in New Haven as they are in Hartford or Fairfield. If regulation is set at the state/federal level then New Haven doesn’t need to spend extra time/resources monitoring it (as we would have to do if we created rules specific to New Haven). Affordable housing is an issue all over CT, not just in New Haven.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 3, 2018  5:05pm

My understanding is that short-term rentals like AirBnB are prohibited in residential districts because it is a commercial use. This is difficult to enforce unless neighbors complain. I am in favor of allowing short-term room rentals like AirBnB in residential districts as an accessory use. This would allow owner-occupied residential property owners to rent out rooms in their house on AirBnB, or in the cases of two- or multi-family houses, to rent out an entire dwelling unit on AirBnB. I do not support allowing entire single-family and dwelling units in absentee-landlord-owned residential properties to be rented out on AirBnB.

I also support revising minimum lot sizes to allow the construction of small houses like this 800 square foot example from the Dixwell neighborhood: http://nhgis.newhavenct.gov/parcel_images/00/05/48/57.jpg

I suspect that by the time an adoptable inclusionary zoning policy is drafted for New Haven, the city’s building boom will be over. Furthermore, I do not support requiring developers to provide affordable housing units in their developments. I would prefer a policy that requires a fee payment instead that would go into a fund to support the construction of a greater number of less expensive owner-occupied single-family houses with ADUs elsewhere in the city (perhaps on vacant lots).

posted by: westvilledad on December 3, 2018  7:54pm

this misses the point. the top 3 things we need to do are:

2. build.
3. build

make it easier for developers to build. make it easier to invest in new haven. this report is the wrong direction - more red tape, more rules, more requirements. developers should be required to set aside affordable housing but only if they are getting city land or special deal (e.g. coliseum site). if it’s part of a discount on land…then great, but not just a blanket requirement.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 3, 2018  9:40pm

Opin1, the recommendation is not entirely clear. But it does talk about “quasi-hotel” units, which presumably are not those rented for short periods of the year. One thing other cities have done is limit their regulations to units that are listed on a regular basis, e.g., excluding units that are marketed 30 days or less per year. FWIW, I think some of the regulations should be statewide, e.g., those dealing with health and safety. But I suspect AirBnB has a minimal impact on housing markets in most towns. It may make to adopt additional requirements in the towns where this is not the case.

Westvilledad, two of the recommendations would result in more units. Easing minimum lot sizes would increase the number of buildable lots and facilitate construction on vacant lots. Allowing accessory dwelling units would permit additional units on built-up parcels. Providing low-interest and forgivable loans to good landlords would not create new units, but would help preserve existing units.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on December 4, 2018  7:48am

The report is helpful. But the city’s housing affordability crisis is fundamentally a function of incomes rather than the number of housing units in town. If you are working full-time at a minimum wage job, you can only afford to pay a bit more than $500 per month in rent, using the 30% rule. This is far below market rents in the New Haven area. Adding hundreds of affordable units through the measures recommended in the report is a good thing. But there are more than 40,000 rental housing units in town and this will have a very limited effect on market rents.

posted by: wendy1 on December 6, 2018  10:34am

WE need affordable housing NOW.  We need 24/7 warming centers NOW.  Folks will die of exposure again because Yale (big $$) and the city do nothing…all talk no action.  There are plenty of empty buildings (at least 3 on my street).  Currently Section 8 is impossible to get here and even if you get it, the waiting list is long, years long.