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With state and federal aid, affordable housing remains a top priority in Connecticut

The inside of a mass timber affordable housing prototype.
Claire Rush
/
AP
The inside of a mass timber affordable housing prototype.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has announced nearly $2.5 million in state funding for a Stamford nonprofit organization to build 39 affordable housing units.

Lamont at an affordable housing development in Bridgeport on Feb. 16, 2023
Ebong Udoma
Lamont at an affordable housing development in Bridgeport on Feb. 16, 2023

Pacific House, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter services, is the recipient. The 39 units will consist of one, two and three-bedroom apartments for individuals and families to be constructed in a building owned by the organization. The ground floor of the building would be the headquarters of Pacific House, where the organization can provide case management services.

These new housing units highlight the demand for affordable housing in Connecticut. A patchwork of legislation and funding from state and federal sources is trying to keep up with the demand. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates almost 90,000 affordable units are needed.

Several bills currently in the state General Assembly aim to tackle affordable housing — by trying to change local zoning, or incentivizing development.

Some legislators support 8-30g — the state housing law that allows land developers to take municipalities to court for rejecting proposals that contain affordable units if they have less than 10% affordable housing.

The law was passed to encourage municipalities to allow private developers to foot the bill for affordable housing construction. However, some legislators argue their small towns should not be held to the same standard as larger cities. Money to renovate possibly contaminated industrial property or build new housing on open space also remains a challenge.

The funding for Pacific House is from Lamont’s recently launched Connecticut Investment Fund 2030 program. The money will be on the agenda for approval at next week’s meeting of the State Bond Commission, said Lamont, who chairs the commission.

“I hope the federal government will continue to make investments, in fact, vastly increase the investments in affordable housing because we do face a housing crisis,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said.

Blumenthal announced Monday that the city of Bridgeport would receive $2 million in federal funding for affordable housing.

Bridgeport Councilman Ernest E. Newton, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County CEO Carolyn Vermont, Habitat for Humanity Board Chair George Keith, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim hold a construction plan
Josue Jorge
/
Habitat for Humanity
Bridgeport Councilman Ernest E. Newton, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County CEO Carolyn Vermont, Habitat for Humanity Board Chair George Keith, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim hold a construction plan.

Ten homes will be built with the help of Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County. The families moving into the houses will also participate in the construction, earning them sweat equity and the right to own their homes.

Blumenthal said the homes will change the lives of the new residents.

“Two million dollars will house 10 to 14 families in homes that they will own as a result of their sweat equity,” Blumenthal said. “It will help keep them off the streets and from homelessness, but also give them the pride and decency they deserve in homeownership. It's the American dream.”

Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County CEO Carolyn Vermont said the homes will come with no down payment, no interest, and a mortgage that never exceeds 30% of the household income.

“At Habitat, we're dealing with a lot of families who are from marginalized and underserved communities,” Vermont said. “These are families who normally would not have the opportunity to own a home.”

Affordable housing also tops the list of priorities for legislators and business owners alike in northeast Connecticut.

Republican State Senator Jeff Gordon said the state needs to stop trying to mandate smaller towns in rural areas to do certain things.

“When it comes to affordable housing to try and mandate our small towns to start building hundreds or thousands of affordable housing units that a lot of towns have no infrastructure to even support makes no sense whatsoever,” said Gordon at a recent legislative breakfast hosted by the Northeastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a government mandate and in fact I believe it’s a government takeover of towns local decision making,” he continued.

State Senator Cathy Osten, a Democrat, agreed that the region has to respond to problems differently than the rest of the state.

“We just don’t have the population that drives the resources, the financial resources of the state into this area,” she said. “And whether it’s education or municipal government aid, we have to figure out the formulas that will allow us to correctly support eastern Connecticut, which is a vital section of the state. It is the area of the state where we are growing the most businesses.”

Other topics of concern to business leaders were meeting regional healthcare needs and building up the local workforce for businesses, like Electric Boat in Groton as they search for 5,000 new employees for submarine work in 2023.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.
An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.