Rep. Gail Lavielle participated in a public hearing held Thursday, Feb. 5 by the General Assembly’s Housing Committee at the New Haven Aldermanic Chamber. Thirty-two bills dealing with the 8-30g affordable housing statute were discussed in the subject-matter hearing.

Rep. Lavielle testified in support of HB 5802, An Act Concerning the Responsible Growth of Affordable Housing, a bill she introduced last month to address the concerns created by the statute for towns like Wilton and Westport.

Under the 8-30g statute, developers constructing affordable housing may use an appeals procedure to circumvent a municipality’s zoning regulations if affordable housing does not represent at least 10 percent of its housing stock.

Wilton most recently dealt with the questions surrounding 8-30g when a multi-unit housing plan was proposed at 44 Westport Rd.. That development has since been back-burnered following a deal struck between the town of Wilton and the real estate developer Patrick Downend. Downend has agreed to sell the Westport Rd. property in exchange for the right to purchase a 1-acre town-owned lot near the Wilton train station and develop a multi-unit residence there. A portion of that development will include units designated as affordable housing. Moreover, the property at 44 Westport Rd. will have a deed-restriction limiting the lot to single-family housing, in perpetuity.

Rep. Lavielle’s bill, HB 5802, would exempt any municipality from the 8-30g affordable housing land use appeals procedure if it demonstrated substantial progress over regular intervals toward the 10 percent affordable housing threshold.

“Section 8-30g of the general statutes was well-intentioned legislation, passed in 1989, that recognized Connecticut’s need for affordable housing and attempted to address it through changes to the appeals process for municipal zoning decisions,” said Rep. Lavielle. “Ideally, it would have led to a balanced approach to affordable housing on the local level – one that would have required municipalities to provide badly needed affordable housing and allowing them to do this while respecting their local planning objectives. Unfortunately, however, that has not been the case. Too often, because of 8-30g, developers have been able to override local zoning plans in ways that adversely affect the character, appearance, traffic patterns, planning, and other aspects of communities,” she said.

Many towns are devoting more time and resources to fighting developers’ proposals than to partnering actively and constructively with them to identify and plan locations for affordable housing that would be consistent with local zoning plans and offer residents the best quality of life, with, among other things, nearby mass transit facilities, convenient access to schools, and adequate open space,” Rep. Lavielle said. “Meanwhile, municipalities are thwarted in preserving their unique physical character, and in sustaining their carefully crafted plans for zoning and conservation and development, while the intent of the statute, to increase affordable housing stock throughout the state, is not being fulfilled.”

Rep. Lavielle noted that 8-30g has become a means of punishing towns for failing to do something that is impossible to accomplish. “No town where affordable housing represents 3 or 4 percent of its total housing stock today can reach the 10 percent threshold overnight,” she said. “It will take several years. Yet in the intervening years, it is still exposed to legal challenges under 8-30g.” 

Rep. Lavielle said that a much more constructive and dynamic scenario would exempt from 8-30g challenges towns that are demonstrably working consistently over time toward the 10-percent threshold by designating affordable housing zones, actively soliciting developers to purchase properties, potentially taking advantage of Connecticut’s affordable housing incentive program, and adhering to a clear schedule for construction. “This would both incentivize an increase in affordable housing, fulfilling the original promise of the statute, and allow towns to control their own destiny,” she said. “Under this scenario, no one loses. Affordable housing would increase, economic opportunity for affordable housing residents would expand, and towns like Wilton and Westport could protect the integrity of their character and zoning regulations.”

State Representative Gail Lavielle represents the 143rd district, which includes parts of Wilton, Westport, and Norwalk. She is Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Education Committee and of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, and a member of the Appropriations and Transportation Committees.