jason rojas
A screenshot of House Majority Leader Jason Rojas during a July 31, 2023 meeting Credit: Courtesy of CT-N

Lawmakers looking to tackle Connecticut’s affordable housing shortage got a glimpse of the scope of the problem this week as the Majority Leaders’ Affordable Housing Roundtable met for the first time to generate legislative ideas for next session. 

“We’re all here to try to figure out how we can move with producing more housing, producing a greater variety of housing,” House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said during Monday’s meeting. 

Local officials and housing industry experts, though, described how difficult it will be for the legislature to get its arms around the problem. 

“If you want to buy something, there’s pretty much nothing to buy,” Connecticut Association of Realtors CEO Cindy Butts said. 

She said Connecticut only has about 3,800 homes listed for sale right now, less than one-fifth of the 22,000 houses that were typically available during the pandemic. 

That’s significantly worse than the national average of a 40% drop in available homes for sale, according to real estate website Redfin. 

That lack of supply is pushing up home prices which, when coupled with rising mortgage rates, is making homeownership unaffordable for many families. 

According to the National Association of Realtors, a family making $75,000 annually could afford roughly 51% of the homes for sale in a balanced housing market. In April, that same family could only afford 23% of the homes for sale. 

“Once upon a time it was possible for a single-income household, say working in a factory, to buy a home,” said Francis Pickering, executive director of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments. “That is no longer possible, even dual-income households are challenged.” 

That shift is due to a number of factors, including land prices, legal and regulatory requirements, and the rising costs of building materials and labor, Pickering said.

Meanwhile, rising rents have compounded the problem, Butts said. In some cases, families are forced to move to find more affordable rental rates, she said. 

Rojas said he and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, created the roundtable to find solutions to these problems. 

“I think it’s easy to make assumptions about what the problem is and what the obstacles are,” he said. 

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the state can help encourage the building of affordable housing by supporting infrastructure upgrades in suburban and rural communities. 

He said residents in Ridgefield are worried affordable housing developments would result in more traffic. The town had tried, unsuccessfully, to connect to Redding’s sewer system to support development in the Branchville section, he said. 

“As you look around our state, the current buildout is happening in the cities where there is good transportation, where there are a lot of jobs,” he said. 

Participants said some of the problems, including labor and construction costs, are things the state can do little to control. As long as those costs stay high, though, affordable housing will be hard to build. 

“It’s very hard to build affordable housing when none of it is affordable,” Butts said. 

Others, including Duff and Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Director of Public Policy and Advocacy Brian O’Connor, said the group also needs to look at zoning reform and other steps that municipalities need to take to allow for more construction. 

“We’re far past just polite conversations,” Duff said. “We have to get into the facts of actually doing something and being a little uncomfortable.” 

The roundtable was created as part of a broader attempt to address housing in Connecticut through a bill approved by the legislature this past session. 

That law also orders the Office of Policy and Management to undergo a Fair Share Housing Allocation study to figure out how much affordable housing each municipality would need to host if a fair share formula existed. 

The group did not set a date for its next meeting, but Rojas said the panel is unlikely to meet in August. He also said that he’s willing to spend the time needed to come up with solutions, even if that means the group has few or no proposals for the 2024 legislative session.