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    Friday, October 07, 2022

    Legislators say new low-income housing plan hurts eastern Connecticut

    The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority's new opportunity map Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, from a screen grab of the CHFA's website, www.chfa.org.

    About a month after eastern Connecticut legislators protested against a proposed plan to manage the distribution of federal low-income housing tax credits, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority has finalized the plan.

    Local legislators again took exception to the now final changes to the 2022-23 qualified allocation plan, which alter the grading for the “opportunity score” of areas based on making sure tenants in subsidized, affordable housing have job and educational opportunities to move up the economic ladder. The scores consider school quality, proximity to community colleges, job availability and access to public transportation.

    Areas determined to be "high opportunity" are more desirable to live in. The authority aims to award low-income housing tax credits to these areas.

    The new plan assesses opportunity scores at a community rather than municipal level, by taking a look at census tracts within a town rather than the town as a whole. This results in changes in scoring.

    State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who is spearheading the challenge to the rule changes, and 14 other legislators — state Sens. Paul Formica, Mae Flexer, Norm Needleman and Heather Somers, as well as state Reps. Emmett Riley, Christine Conley, Brian Smith, Joe de la Cruz, Anthony Nolan, Kathleen McCarty, Holly Cheeseman, Greg Howard, Susan Johnson and Kevin Ryan — issued a statement together following the authority's approval of the plan.

    A low score makes receiving state grants an arduous challenge, and "with the new scoring system, just 1% of Tolland, Windham and New London counties qualify as 'high' opportunity areas, compared to 20% statewide,” the statement reads.

    According to the CHFA's new opportunity map, New London County doesn’t have a single “very high” opportunity area. That evaluation is saved for towns and cities like Redding, Stamford, Weston and Greenwich, among others. The closest “very high” opportunity municipality to New London County is Old Saybrook.

    However, southeastern Connecticut has several “high” opportunity areas, including Old Lyme, Stonington and certain parts of Groton, such as Noank.

    New London, Waterford, East Lyme, Montville and other towns were highly scored on the previous opportunity map.

    'Chicken and egg' situation

    CHFA CEO and Executive Director Nandini Natarajan said Tuesday that there are more opportunities than this specific tax credit for which areas with lower opportunity scores can apply.

    “You can still get funded having a lower score. If you look at our history with this 9 percent program, it shows very clearly that a lower score is not an impediment to being funded,” she said. “Rural Connecticut, which is not only Eastern Connecticut, have the challenge of not having the appropriate infrastructure to support large low-income housing tax credit developments.”

    Natarajan said she looks forward to an ongoing dialogue with legislators. She said the goal of the opportunity plan is to put low-income people in positions to succeed and in areas on the rise.

    “I’m actually excited about this plan, I think it has the potential to bring affordable housing to areas that are thriving that lower-income people might wanna live in,” she said. “It’s just one of many available resources, and we want to use the tools that are best-suited for the areas they’re meant for. We see the need for creating affordable housing opportunities elsewhere than areas of poverty. Lower-income people deserve to live in areas that are thriving just as much as high-income people do.”

    On Thursday, Osten and Howard elaborated on their opposition to the new plan. Osten said it’s unfair for municipalities to be expected to make more robust, for example, public transportation before a housing development project is guaranteed.

    “To me it’s a chicken and the egg thing,” she said. “Why would a small community put in water and sewer if they don’t know something’s coming along. You’re only going to put it in when you have a project.”

    The authority’s plan, Osten said, is missing the fact that “we’re a nice area.”

    “That’s so disturbing that they don’t understand the value of rural Connecticut,” she continued. “There’s a lot to be valued in rural Connecticut. You look at those maps, it’s a direct hit on three counties, Tolland, Windham and New London. It’s a third of the land base in Connecticut.”

    Howard said he couldn’t reconcile being told eastern Connecticut doesn’t have enough affordable housing at the same time the authority is coming up with formulas that disadvantage the region.

    “When they show you a map that says eastern Connecticut is deficient in affordable housing and to address that, they’re going to adjust the opportunity scale to make it more difficult to put affordable housing in eastern Connecticut, that’s the opposite of logical,” he said. “That’s like saying this bucket is too heavy, so I’m going to put a few more rocks in it.”

    Osten and Howard said they and their colleagues will be following the issue.

    “They can do what they did, we can’t stop them,” Howard said. “We can try to use our positions and our platform to influence them and bring attention to it, which we did, but they’re digging their heels in.”

    Gov. Ned Lamont weighed in on the matter in a statement from the CHFA announcing the new plan.

    “The QAP contains important guideposts for developers seeking tax credits to build affordable housing across the state. Most importantly, it champions important state policies around transit-oriented development, sustainable design, and encourages development to combat historical housing segregation in Connecticut,” he said. “The creation and preservation of affordable housing is also a key driver of job growth. Investments made in 2020 by CHFA and the Department of Housing created over 2,000 affordable units and more than 1,000 new jobs. We expect this QAP will encourage development that will meet or exceed that number.”

    s.spinella@theday.com

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