Steps Lamont must take to meet housing challenge
Gov. Ned Lamont will indeed be making the right choice if he makes expansion of affordable housing a priority for the three years remaining in his second term.
But how serious is he?
Connecticut needs more affordable places for people to live. It needs housing for those near or at the poverty level and it needs housing for those struggling at the margins of the middle class. For too many workers an unexpected problem — such as a cut in job hours or a major car repair — can make it impossible to meet rent payments that are becoming ever higher.
Meanwhile, high housing costs and steep interest rates make the dream of owning a home out of reach for many workers.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition calculates that Connecticut is 89,000 units short of the amount of affordable-priced housing necessary to meet the need. Whether that number accurately reflects the problem can be debated, but it is beyond debate that housing has become too expensive for too many and the trends are moving in the wrong direction. The number of homeless is growing, say advocates who care for that population.
Compassion alone should dictate that Connecticut works to improve the situation. But Lamont, recently speaking at a housing conference, put it in terms that could attract a broader coalition than will tugging on heart strings.
“We’ve got businesses that want to expand here, but they’re not sure they can expand here unless their workers have a place that they could live. We were one of the fastest-growing economies in the country last year. But our future will be determined by whether there’s affordable places for people to live across the state,” said the business-oriented governor. “More people are moving here, businesses want to come here. But if there’s not a place for people to live, that’s going to stop.”
Lamont can start by sitting down with state Sen. Cathy Osten, a fellow Democrat who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee. In a recent guest commentary in The Day, Osten pointed to the absurdity of existing rules developed by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority that make it close to impossible for developers to obtain tax credits for affordable housing projects here in eastern Connecticut.
“The State of Connecticut is essentially telling developers not to build affordable housing here,” wrote Osten, whose 19th District covers the towns of Norwich, Montville, Ledyard, Lisbon, Sprague, Franklin, Lebanon, Marlborough and Columbia.
That needs to change.
The rapid job expansion at Electric Boat in Groton has increased demand for housing, but without the necessary increase in supply. Basic economics has played out. Higher demand without adequate supply has resulted in price spikes, with rents pushed still higher by inflation. A large segment of the workforce here in southeastern Connecticut — in the tourism and casino sectors, for example — struggle to keep up.
If there is a place where increased affordable housing can enable the business expansion Lamont says he desires, it is in our region. Sit down with Sen. Osten and figure out this tax credit issue, governor.
Lamont also must be willing to expend some of his political capital if he is serious about addressing the housing problem. Expanding the stock of multifamily affordable housing will mean pushing past local resistance and zoning rules. The governor must lean on the legislature to make that happen. If that costs him some approval rating points, so be it. Is expanding affordable housing really a priority or not?
Talk is cheap. Housing is not. It is time to move from talk to action.
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