Klein: Everyone benefits from statewide inclusionary zoning

It is no secret that the development of housing—whether its market rate, affordable, or a combination of both—is an economic driver.  Housing development plays an important role in economic recovery and growth. It works in tandem with other initiatives such as transportation, education, business incentives, access to healthcare, and energy investments.

Housing development and housing services make up approximately 15.24% of Connecticut’s domestic product. Research tells us that the one year local impact of building 100 multifamily units in a typical U.S. metropolitan area is $7 million in local income, $710,000 in taxes and other local government revenue, and 133 local jobs. Looking beyond the one year impact, these same units will generate $3.2 million in local income, $461,000 in taxes, and 52 local jobs.

New Hartford bill proposal: All housing development would include some affordable units

Since 2011 the preservation, rehabilitation, and creation of affordable housing has been a priority of Governor Malloy. The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and, the Department of Housing have financed over 11,000 units of affordable rental housing, which has generated $119 million in state revenue and $1.8 billion in total economic activity, with private investment in the development of the housing exceeding $2 billion.

Local businesses both large and small, schools, and other governmental and non-governmental services rely on employees at all levels to be successful. Employees need a place to live. Affordable housing near employment is essential in attracting and maintaining a workforce.

In Connecticut, 49.1% of renters and 30% of homeowners are paying more than 30% of their income on housing. High housing costs are cited as the number one reason young people are moving out of Connecticut – but we are actively working to reverse that trend.

It is true—most of Fairfield County is well-developed and Darien is 99% developed. Too often we hear, “there is no room to build affordable housing,” though multifamily development proposals continue to be brought before planning and zoning commissions. Unfortunately, these proposals do not contain affordable housing units. Certainly, in a 70-unit proposed development, there is room to set aside some number of affordable units. Having all types of housing options — affordable rental, market rate rental, affordable homeownership, market rate homeownership — attracts a diverse demographic which creates vibrant, thriving communities.

For this reason, the Department of Housing proposed a statewide inclusionary zoning bill requiring a percentage of units in a newly created development to qualify as affordable housing. The bill will set criteria for each municipality by tying the requirement to the existing stock of affordable housing. This will ensure the housing needs are met for all municipal residents including working families, young professionals, and elderly individuals.

If adopted, Connecticut will be the first state in the nation to have statewide inclusionary zoning. In 2017, Connecticut has much to be proud of on the housing front.  Since 2011, Connecticut has made unprecedented progress in the preservation, rehabilitation, and creation of affordable housing. We were the first state in the nation to end chronic veteran homelessness. We are one of three states to effectively end veteran homelessness, and the only state to have matched every chronically homeless individual with housing.  We’re working to end family and youth homelessness by 2020. To maintain this progress—to reach our goals over the next few years—we will need affordable housing units. To help individuals and families right here in our hometown, we will need affordable housing units.

We have a choice—to acknowledge the need for affordable housing that exists in every community, to acknowledge the role housing development plays in our economy and by making this choice we provide individuals and families who live here in our state, in our hometown, the opportunity to thrive by having an affordable place to call home. Simply said—everyone benefits.

Evonne M. Klein is the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Housing. She served as Darien's first selectman from 2003 to 2009.