Pass 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.
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