State legislators who overwhelmingly voted to update the state’s Affordable Housing Statute are hoping to override the recent veto by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The bill, which would have prevented exploitation of the statute, received bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives, which voted 116 - 33 in late May; and the Senate, which voted 30-6 in early June.
Overriding the governor’s veto would require a two-thirds vote by each chamber — the House would need 101 votes and the Senate would need 24 votes.
State Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford) has been working on the proposed legislation for years, and was one of the co-sponsors of House Bill 6880.
“The Governor’s veto is a huge disappointment,” Reed told the Eagle. “We fought long and hard to move this bill through a variety of killer obstacles. The pushback came from developers and from many affordable housing advocates who frankly misunderstood our motives and objectives. We need to discourage predatory developers from hijacking the statute for selfish purposes.”
Reed said overriding the governor’s veto is a viable option considering the vote margin in both chambers. “It is certainly something I’ll fight for. The difficulty right now, of course, is getting everybody together to vote on anything, given all of the external and internal strife over budget choices.”
Reed is a strong supporter of affordable housing. “We are proud of our diverse community and of our ongoing efforts to connect deserving families with home ownership opportunities. 8-30g needs to be updated and refined. Sooner or later, that is bound to happen.”
Connecticut is the only state in the nation with affordable housing procedures that allow private developers to supersede local zoning regulations and force through housing proposals if a community has not met its quota for affordable units, a quota that is narrowly defined.
Towns and cities across the state have been united in their efforts to update the statute.
Malloy Vetoes Legislation
In a lengthy explanation of his veto, the governor wrote: “Every resident of Connecticut should have access to housing they can afford in the town where they work. So, too, should everyone be able to live affordably in the town that they choose, with access to good schools, safe neighborhoods, and basic services, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or income. However, for many lower-income residents who must work in areas of the state where the cost of housing is high, a long history of decisions and discriminatory policies has made securing that housing persistently difficult.” He stated he did not believe the changes to the statute would help that situation.
Senator Gayle Slossberg, (D-Milford) said the governor’s stance “shows a real lack of understanding of the specific workings of this statute and of the need for reform.”
State Rep. John Frey (R- Ridgefield) released a statement urging an override to the governor’s veto so that “concerned citizens across the state will be heard. We can still do the right thing here.”
Updating the Statute
Among the new provisions, the bill would make it easier for municipalities to qualify for a four-year moratorium by expanding the types of housing that count toward the moratorium.
The state’s affordable housing statute says property must be “deed restricted” or federally assisted to qualify as affordable housing — which means Branford only has 3.46 percent of qualified housing— well below the 10 percent quota required by the statute.
However, the South Central Regional Council of Governments shows that in 2015 Branford had 22 percent of homes that met the criteria of affordable housing for the 80 percent mark, and 12 percent for 50 percent mark.
The statute says an affordable housing project must have 15 percent of its units set aside for people earning less than 80 percent of the median income, and 15 percent for people earning less than 60 percent.
Upgrading the affordable housing statute is important to communities across the state and to Branford.
Years ago, Branford earned the nickname Condo Capitol of Connecticut. But now many condos are no longer owner-occupied and have become rental units. Those lower-priced units are not on the state’s affordable housing list because they’re not deed-restricted. There are also numerous trailer courts in town whose occupants could qualify as low-income, but their homes are also not on the state’s list.
Flaws in the statute became evident locally in the past year when a Middletown man submitted simultaneous requests to build either a single-family home or affordable housing units on a half-acre environmentally-sensitive site that had already been deemed “unbuildable.” The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denied the variances for a single-family home; and the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission denied requests for affordable housing units.
Arsalan Altaf, through his Pawson Road LLC, has appealed the denials by the ZBA and the P&Z. Both cases were moved to the Land Use section of Hartford Superior Court, where Judge Marshall K. Berger Jr. approved a request to combine the two cases by Altaf’s attorney Kevin Curseaden of Milford.
Since then the judge granted Stephen and Patricia Small, the abutting neighbors, the right to intervene in the case.
The ZBA had deemed the lot “unbuildable” when a previous owner applied for variances in January 2015. Altaf purchased the property in September 2015 for $35,000. It was appraised at $71,000.
Reed testified at P&Z public hearings in regard to the Pawson Road property. “I think one of the things going on here … is that the real objective is to get that single home in there, so this statute is being used as a weapon to try to make that compromise,” Reed said at the July 2016 hearings.
Branford’s Affordable Housing Projects
Two other affordable housing projects were in the news in Branford in recent months.
The Summit Place project under the new Incentive Housing Overlay District (IHOD) program was unanimously approved by P&Z in May 2016. Developer Alex Vigliotti received permission to convert two existing office buildings on Summit Place into 35 apartments, including seven deed-restricted units. The plans came under the IHOD program approved by the state in 2007.
The second project involves the Branford Housing Authority’s efforts to replace the aging Parkside Village I public housing complex. Plans were withdrawn last year when it became apparent they could not be approved before the November deadline for federal funding.
The three buildings that comprise Parkside Village I were built in the 1970’s, and are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complex includes 50 units for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. A second complex on adjacent property, Parkside II, was built in 1984 and has 40 units.
Efforts to find another site, or swap locations with the town-owned former Branford Hills Elementary School site, failed to materialize after the idea ran into legal trouble. So the new building will be constructed at the current South Montowese location.
The Housing Authority is working on revised plans which would rotate the building so it will be less visible from the street.