Editorial: Did towns miss the housing deadline, or just ignore it?

This sign popped up in many front yards around New Canaan, after an application for a 102-unit multifamily building, with 31 affordable housing units was submitted for on Weed Street and Elm Street in March 2022.

This sign popped up in many front yards around New Canaan, after an application for a 102-unit multifamily building, with 31 affordable housing units was submitted for on Weed Street and Elm Street in March 2022.

Grace Duffield / Hearst Connecticut Media

Let’s consider the glass-half-full side of the Great Connecticut Affordable Housing Showdown of 2022.

Facing pressure to hit benchmarks for affordable housing, Connecticut’s 169 municipalities have each been pausing to consider, define and defend their individual character. There is always value for town leaders to ponder big-picture vision and goals without an election on the line. It’s a primary driver of pushback to maintain a stranglehold on “local control.”

Then there’s the glass-half-empty side, which was on full display when the calendar flipped to June 1. That happened to be the deadline set a year ago when Connecticut passed a law requiring towns to present proposals for the development of affordable housing.

The response to the deadline has been, well, embarrassing for Connecticut. Only 81 municipalities managed to submit plans to the state by June 1.

It wasn’t only affluent towns such as Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan and Westport that failed. Cities, including Norwalk, Bridgeport, Hartford and Waterbury, missed the deadline as well.

These municipalities are supposed to reveal when they would eventually meet their obligation. About 18 did report being on track to filing soon.

Developing affordable housing plans is not easy. We suspect many towns will come through. But we also know Connecticut well enough to suspect some towns likely have no plans to ever cooperate.

The problem with “local control” is that our towns always had it. They just didn’t do much to advance affordable housing. This law didn’t really change anything. Towns were already supposed to provide updates on housing plans every five years or so. The only thing that’s new is that lawmakers put a deadline on it.

Center for Housing Opportunity Director Christie Stewart accurately observed that “the legislation has no teeth.”

It needs more bite, as too many of our towns fail to recognize the benefits of rejecting exclusivity and embracing diversity. The hearings in local town halls have — for better or worse — brought this difficult discussion into the open. As one resident protesting during a local hearing, a proposal on the table is nothing less than “a plan to change Ridgefield.”

Yes, it is.

These are all plans to gradually reimagine Connecticut, one municipality at a time. The controversial Section 8-30g of the Connecticut General Statutes is intended to encourage towns with less than 10 percent of their housing stock defined as “affordable” to develop more.

Only 18 percent of municipalities meet that threshold. Most Connecticut residents could guess which cities and towns are on that exclusive list (Stamford, Norwalk, Danbury, etc.).

The Land of Steady Habits needs to change many of the ones regarding affordable housing, because they are bad habits. This won’t be the only deadline, as towns will get to do this all over again in five years. By then, it should sink in that to get some towns to recognize affordable housing in the vision of local character, lawmakers need to define consequences.

Until then, the glass won’t be half-full or half-empty for some residents. It will just remain empty.