Two common issues in affordable housing battles illustrated in Pawcatuck, Connecticut

A fight over affordable housing in Pawcatuck, Connecticut highlights several common issues in these battles:

1. The author suggests the development will ultimately go forward because of Connecticut’s particular zoning laws:

In the event of a denial by the PZC and subsequent appeal of that decision, Connecticut State Law 8-30g puts the burden on the PZC to prove substantial risk to public health and that those “public interests clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing; and (C) such public interests cannot be protected by reasonable changes to the affordable housing development.”

In other words, the proposed housing complex must pose a threat to the well-being of its neighbors. A mixed-use plan which calls for first floors eventually to be converted to commercial use, the proposal includes three buildings; two-three story buildings of 20 one-bedroom, 20 two-bedroom, four, three-bedroom and one, three-bedroom caretaker detached house, 89 parking spots and a playground.

This regulation about affordable housing sounds like it has more teeth than those in other states. For example,  Illinois tried to impose regulations in 2004 (read some important documents and annual reports here) but as far as I know, major changes have not occurred.

If planning commissions can’t do much about such proposals, how can communities fight back (if they desire)? I assume the typical NIMBY arguments, like traffic, might be thrown out to show the development is a danger to the well-being of the neighbors.

2. There is some mention about who would actually qualify for the affordable housing:

“We’re not dealing with low income housing, but attainable housing, Bates said. He said “civil servants that cannot afford McMansions,” like police officers and teachers.

The affordable housing formula calls for 20 percent of the units to be provided for families whose income is 80 percent of median income, 15 percent must be at 60 percent of median income with the balance at 100 percent of the median income—or market price for rents.

Interestingly, the attorney for the development (Bates) is the one suggesting it is about “attainable housing.” For worried residents, suggesting that the housing is really for teachers and police sounds much better. The subtext is that this really isn’t about bringing lower-class or poor residents into the community. On the other hand, the Connecticut regulations are tied to income. Pawcatuck had a median household income (2009 estimate) of nearly $58,000 so a household at 60% is making $34,800.

In the end, is opposition to the development about the density of housing that might not fit the community, is it about the kind of residents who might move in, or is it about property values?

(Read about another fight over affordable housing in Winnetka, Illinois.)

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