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    Friday, June 09, 2023

    More than 30 Conn. towns haven’t submitted plans for affordable housing

    Nearly a year after Connecticut towns were required to submit affordable housing plans to the state, 34 still had not done so as of this week, and some have shown little indication that they ever intend to.

    Under a state law passed in 2017, towns and cities must submit affordable housing plans to the state Office of Policy and Management at least once every five years and post them publicly online. The plans must "specify how the municipality intends to increase the number of affordable housing developments in the municipality," the law says.

    But fewer than half of towns and cities submitted plans by the initial deadline of June 1, 2022, and more than 50 still had not done so by September. Since then, a handful more plans have trickled in, but dozens are still missing, according to a list maintained by OPM, which says it has no legal recourse to compel towns to complete the process.

    CT Insider reached out to officials from all 34 towns and cities who had not submitted plans as of Wednesday and received responses from 25 of them. Several said their towns had approved affordable housing plans but not yet submitted them to the state (in some cases due to oversight), while others said they were finalizing plans and hoped to adopt them in the coming weeks or months.

    Officials in four towns said they thought they had already submitted their plans, and several said they resubmitted to OPM after being contacted by CT Insider.

    In other cases, officials declined to offer timelines or said their plans wouldn't likely be finished until next year. In New Britain, a spokesperson said the city had no plans to submit an affordable housing plan beyond what was in a 2021 plan of conservation and development.

    Officials in nine municipalities — Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Derby, Griswold, Norwalk, Oxford, Shelton, Sterling and Watertown — did not respond to a request for comment. While some of those towns and cities have indicated previously that their plans are in progress, others have shown no public signs of progress.

    Towns that did respond to CT Insider offered varied explanations for their delayed plans. Enfield's town manager, Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, said efforts were behind schedule "due to Covid and staffing turnover," while Wethersfield Mayor Michael Rell said the process there, which is only now getting underway, had been slowed by the departure of the former town planner.

    In Thomaston, land use administrator Stacey Sefcik said officials had conducted an initial survey, then decided they needed an additional survey geared toward renters specifically, delaying the process. West Hartford's town planner, Todd Dumais, said the town had been hindered by staff shortages.

    An OPM spokesperson said the agency had attempted to contact each town that missed its initial deadline last summer and had heard back from most but not all of them with expected completion dates, many of which have since passed without submitted plans. Because state law does not prescribe a consequence for towns or cities that decline to submit plans, OPM has no further recourse, the spokesperson said.

    This dynamic underscores what advocates see as a broader problem when it comes to affordable housing in Connecticut: State lawmakers want local officials to make their communities more affordable but rarely require them to do so.

    Erin Boggs, executive director of the nonprofit Open Communities Alliance, said the failure of some towns to take the affordable housing plan process seriously shows that polite requests aren't enough if Connecticut hopes to increase its affordable housing stock.

    "It's made it absolutely clear that we need to do a lot more than ask towns nicely for a plan," said Boggs, who supports a bill that would require towns to plan and zone for a certain number of affordable housing units.

    Boggs noted that even among towns that submitted affordable housing plans, some were stronger than others. Many, she said, "seemed to be more along the lines of a plan to make a plan in the future."

    Last year, housing advocacy groups scored every plan submitted by a town in Fairfield County, giving many failing grades for what they saw as insufficient detail.

    Asked this week about the affordable housing plans the state has received, state Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said she'd seen "a range" in depth and quality but that she was "very optimistic that towns do want to do the right thing."

    Gov. Ned Lamont, speaking at an event to promote affordable housing, said he didn't think the state needed a more aggressive approach.

    "The vast majority of our towns are coming forward with plans," he said. "The towns I talk to say, 'We want more housing. We want more affordable housing. Don't tell us how to do it; we're going to do it ourselves.'"

    But Boggs said she worries the lack of consequences for towns that have moved slowly in adopting affordable housing plans or ignored the requirement altogether will encourage other towns to do the same next time around. In five years, when towns have to submit updated plans, she said, it's possible even more will decline to do so.

    "That's the inevitable reaction to a state obligation that has no consequence," Boggs said. "The way the state is responding to it right now predicts what will happen to these reports in the future."

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