Con­necti­cut should push up home­own­er­ship, not prices

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - OPINION - By Chris Pow­ell Chris Pow­ell is a colum­nist for the Jour­nal In­quirer in Manch­ester.

Among the many com­plaints about the Malloy ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­necti­cut is that res­i­den­tial real es­tate prices have been stag­nant or de­clin­ing. The Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor, Bob Ste­fanowski, has pressed this point of­ten.

Of course home­own­ers usu­ally like their prop­erty to in­crease in value, but not al­ways. Re­tirees are not so happy about it when their ris­ing prop­erty wealth is re­flected in higher prop­erty tax bills. More im­por­tant, hous­ing is not a fi­nan­cial as­set for the whole pop­u­la­tion, since many peo­ple are renters, nor is hous­ing a fi­nan­cial as­set alone. Rather, hous­ing is first of all a ne­ces­sity of life as much as food, elec­tric­ity, gaso­line, heat­ing oil, and med­i­cal care. No­body ex­cept the ven­dors of those ne­ces­si­ties cel­e­brates when those prices go up.

Be­cause Con­necti­cut state gov­ern­ment poli­cies long have been so mis­taken and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, the state’s econ­omy has been lag­ging the na­tion’s for many years, and that has tended to de­press hous­ing prices. But those poli­cies have de­pressed in­comes as well, mak­ing hous­ing more ex­pen­sive for or­di­nary peo­ple any­way. Fur­ther, the state’s land use pol­icy, giv­ing great dis­cre­tion to mu­nic­i­pal zon­ing agen­cies, makes hous­ing more ex­pen­sive still, since most towns pro­hibit or dis­cour­age mul­ti­fam­ily and in­ex­pen­sive hous­ing.

Just last week, the zon­ing board in New­ing­ton, a town where “af­ford­able” hous­ing con­sti­tutes less than 10 per­cent of the sup­ply, re­jected a plan to build 81 low- and mod­er­ate-rent apart­ments near a stop on the bus high­way be­tween Hart­ford and New Bri­tain. The board pur­ported to op­pose the project be­cause of the dif­fi­culty of build­ing an ad­e­quate side­walk from the apart­ments to the bus stop. But be­ing so low, New­ing­ton’s af­ford­able hous­ing sup­ply sug­gests that the zon­ing board is mainly un­en­thu­si­as­tic about ad­mit­ting peo­ple who will be renters in­stead of home­own­ers.

Such dis­dain of renters is com­mon and is fair to an ex­tent. Con­necti­cut’s poverty pol­icy long has failed, cre­at­ing poverty more than elim­i­nat­ing it, and the poor of­ten are a drain on their com­mu­ni­ties, con­sum­ing more in pub­lic ser­vices than they pro­duce in taxes. But con­cen­trat­ing the poor in the cities, the few places where mul­ti­fam­ily hous­ing is al­lowed, has pro­found so­cial and fi­nan­cial costs too.

As long as Con­necti­cut is con­tent for poverty pol­icy to cre­ate rather than re­duce poverty, the cities can’t be im­proved with­out ex­port­ing their poor to the sub­urbs, and pol­i­tics has yet to sum­mon the nerve to force the sub­urbs to take them. It prob­a­bly never will.

So Con­necti­cut might do well to ex­am­ine hous­ing pol­icy in Sin­ga­pore, a city-state with lit­tle in­come in­equal­ity and a home­own­er­ship rate of 90 per­cent. This has been achieved in large part be­cause the Sin­ga­porean gov­ern­ment lets peo­ple use their so­cial in­sur­ance tax with­hold­ings to pur­chase hous­ing, whose con­struc­tion the gov­ern­ment ar­ranges — beau­ti­ful con­do­minium tow­ers with many ameni­ties, largely owne­roc­cu­pied. The poor be­come prop­erty own­ers, gain re­spect for prop­erty, build eq­uity, and be­come mid­dle class.

Sin­ga­pore does some­thing Con­necti­cut can’t. It forces eth­nic in­te­gra­tion in hous­ing so peo­ple of Chi­nese, Malay, and Euro­pean de­scent can­not iso­late them­selves. But Con­necti­cut could achieve in­te­gra­tion in gov­ern­mentspon­sored con­dos by ar­rang­ing res­i­dency by in­come lev­els, which is some­times done al­ready in pri­vately built hous­ing and in­deed was planned for those apart­ments in New­ing­ton.

Poor peo­ple who are about to be­come own­ers of mod­est con­dos might be more wel­come in the sub­urbs — and more suc­cess­ful.

CHRIS POW­ELL

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