Courtesy of RPA

A new report from the Regional Plan Association (RPA) finds that changing zoning laws in the tri-state area would create hundreds of thousands of new homes. Those new homes could be an apartment over a garage, an in-law apartment, or the conversion of large single family homes into two or three family houses.

Representatives from RPA shared these findings with Desegregate CT Tuesday in a virtual meeting. Sara Bronin, Desegregate CT organizer and chair of Real Property Law at UConn Law, said that several other nearby states like Massachusetts and Vermont have used this moment of racial reckoning and the increasing calls for affordable housing to pass laws that will create more housing options. She hopes Connecticut can seize this moment to do the same.

“We are trying to create more housing, more types of housing and do it in a much quicker way than we have in the long, drawn-out processes of the past,” Bronin said. “We do think we have an opportunity right now.”

Housing advocates, like Bronin, have been pushing for state zoning regulations to require communities who have long excluded affordable housing to expand opportunities.
The RPA report finds that the tri-state region allocates too much land to single family houses which are most often occupied by white home owners. However, in places where the land is zoned for less single family homes, only 33% of the population is white. This means that a large portion of the minority community in the region lives in apartment style or multi-family homes, and laws preventing the zoning of multi-family homes hurts these communities the most.

“Such imbalance in residential land use is not a coincidence, but the physical manifestation of accumulated policy and planning decisions that have perpetuated housing discrimination and segregation,” the report reads.

According to the report, single family stand alone, or detached, housing provides only about 40% of housing in an area, yet occupies 93% of the land use. However,  multi-family buildings provide 60% of the housing stock in areas close to transit stations, they only cover about 6% of the land meant for residential use. This is contributing to a housing crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.

Cities like New Haven have already considered a more inclusionary zoning policy to allow developers to construct more homes if they also construct affordable housing. Two weeks ago, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker suggested an additional property tax on every community that has a housing stock where less than 10% of the units are considered affordable.

RPA’s legislative solution suggests making it easier for home owners to divide their homes into detached units (like a small shed), attached units (like an addition on the house), retrofitted garages, basements and attics. These are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

“Each state in the region should establish policies that encourage municipalities to implement local regulations that enable ADUs and conversions,” the report reads. “These policies should specify the minimum rights of owners to create accessory apartments and include recommended guidelines and assistance to municipalities. In some cases, and with the proper oversight, these new units could contribute to local fair share obligations required by state law.”

Marcel Negret, one of the researchers for the report, said that current zoning laws in the region are a barrier to combatting the housing crisis.

“None of this happened by chance, none of this is a coincidence,” Negret said. “It’s rather an accumulation of policy decisions made over several generations.”

RPA and Desegregate CT are pushing for the passage of the Zoning Enabling Act Reorganization to clarify existing zoning provisions as well as legislation to stop red-lining. Negret said that Roosevelt-era policies discouraged the development of neighborhoods occupied by immigrants and Black Americans that were considered high risk by the Home Owners Loan Corporation.

The updates Negret and others are pushing for would alter zoning regulations to incentivize the building of ADUs, but also providing technical assistance in the conversion of homes. Bronin pointed out that the state legislature “took a pass” on housing segregation and land use reform in July, but hopes that the issue will come to the forefront soon.

“We hope they are going to take up our recommendations in September but if they continue to take a pass we have enough momentum that we consider our role to be to strengthen these proposals,” Bronin said.

The General Assembly is expected to meet again in September for a special session, but an agenda has not been decided yet.