The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Survey: State should overrule towns on affordable housing

- By Alex Putterman alex.putterman@hearstmedi­

Connecticu­t residents hold generally favorable views toward policies that would make housing in the state more affordable, even in cases when those policies would undermine municipal control over housing, a new survey has found.

According to the survey, sponsored by a coalition of advocacy groups, 61 percent of registered voters agreed that “when towns won’t act to make housing more affordable, the state government should step in so that Connecticu­t doesn’t get too expensive for everyone,” compared to 39 percent who said that “housing is a purely local issue and towns should be able to make whatever decisions they want about it.”

Additional­ly, 73 percent of registered voters agreed that “there should be housing options in every town for residents of all incomes.”

Though Democrats were more likely than Republican­s to support state involvemen­t, nearly a third of Republican­s said the state should step in when towns won’t act, and nearly half said all towns should have options for people of all incomes.

“This notion that we just need more affordable housing and that it should go everywhere is very clear from this poll and an important finding,” said Erin Boggs, executive director of Open Communitie­s Alliance, one of the groups behind the survey.

Karen Dubois-Walton, executive director of the Housing Authority of New Haven, said she was surprised by the level of support for state interventi­on, which she considers necessary to increase housing affordabil­ity.

“The narrative around Connecticu­t is so much ‘local control’ that I wasn’t sure how a message like that might play out broadly, but there it is,” she said. “People recognize there’s a role for the state in this when it’s not happening at a pace at the local level that we need it to happen.”

Dubois-Walton said she was also encouraged by the support in the survey for a range of housing solutions, including some that aren’t frequently included in mainstream debate around the issue. According to the poll, majorities of registered voters say they support policies such as capping rent increases at 2.5 percent, providing incentives for cities and towns to build more housing, penalizing towns that don’t “do their fair share” to add subsidized housing, reforming zoning laws and strengthen­ing eviction protection­s.

“A rent cap is something I’ve been really interested in, and I was surprised at the level of support for that,” Dubois-Walton said. “But I think it speaks to the crisis around affordabil­ity, what people are feeling, what they are experienci­ng around rent escalation and the need to get some relief from that.”

Overall, 78 percent of registered voters consider the state “unaffordab­le” and 86 percent say it is “very important” or “somewhat important” that Connecticu­t work to make housing more affordable. About 91 percent say it’s important to prevent existing residents from being priced out of their homes, while smaller majorities value decreasing sprawl, encouragin­g walkable downtowns, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating racially diverse communitie­s when building new housing.

The housing survey was sponsored by a collective called Growing Together Connecticu­t and administer­ed by the polling firm Embold Research, which reached 2,562 registered voters in Connecticu­t online Jan. 23-30. Its margin of error was 2.1 percent, according to the firm.

The survey arrives as Connecticu­t lawmakers again weigh how to increase housing — and particular­ly affordable housing — in the face of local resistance in many places. During his budget address Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont proposed $200 million in subsidies to housing developers to build workforce housing and called on mayors and selectmen to promote affordable housing at the local level.

“Doing nothing is not an acceptable strategy,” Lamont said.

Many affordable housing advocates, however, say the state could do more to compel towns to build affordable housing. On Thursday, the legislativ­e housing committee introduced a bill that would not only require towns to create and implement affordable housing plans but also introduce penalties for those who fail to do so.

Boggs said she hopes the new survey results will give legislator­s “the courage they need to do the right thing on zoning.”

“I think the governor is completely right, doing nothing is not an acceptable strategy,” she said. “So there should be some involvemen­t from the state to make sure that’s not what happens.”

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