New Haven looks to address lack of affordable housing in city, area

NEW HAVEN — A task force on affordable housing Wednesday gave a broad outline on zoning and land use changes, additional staffing needs and is pushing for a regional response to boost the supply of quality housing options for low- and middle-income earners.

Organized in March, it met over the summer and fall to address the lack of housing and had hoped to have a report for the meeting. That was put off for a few weeks to allow it to arrive at a consensus on all the areas it studied. On Wednesday it outlined its draft report to a small audience in the city’s aldermanic chambers.

The report picks up many of the elements submitted in “A Room for All Coalition,” which represents the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Mothers and Others for Justice, Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, Youth Continuum, Ct Bail Fund’s Housing Not Jails and Y2Y.

Some of the newer proposals include a Housing Trust Fund that developers of market-rate units could contribute to for the construction of affordable housing units and proposed state changes that would boost affordable housing in the suburbs.

Another new suggestion would have the Economic Development Corp. take over the “housing and redevelopment work currently housed in the Livable City Initiative,” said Otis Johnson, who heads the Fair Rent Commission. He added that the commission and the housing code and enforcement arm of LCI “can make a significant impact on affordability.”

Karen DuBois-Walton, head of the New Haven Housing Authority, addressed, among other things, the responsibility of suburban towns to diversify their housing stock and she directed her discussion to the 15-town South Central Connecticut region, which has a total population of 570,000.

For the region, only 7 percent of housing is affordable with 30 percent of New Haven’s housing stock meeting that definition. The affordable housing in Bethany is less than one percent, less than 2 percent in Madison and 5 percent in Milford.

“Clearly this issue needs to addressed on a regional basis,” DuBois-Walton said.

She said the South Central Regional Council of Governments has regional authority in some areas. She said the task force wants the city to engage it to study and address the disproportionate under-representation of this kind of housing in many communities.

The group wants the city to push for legislation that increases the geographic authority for housing authorities to develop affordable housing. She said there also should be a state committee to explore regional state zoning authority to govern land use, particularly around transit areas.

The housing director also wants New Haven to take the lead in changing statutory language that says such things as “protect community character and other language that is used to keep affordable housing out of certain areas.”

Specific to New Haven, Dubois-Walton pointed to the need for 20,000 more apartments here, many deeply subsidized given the large number of people who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

This report also focuses on the quantity and quality of housing and addresses the need to hold landlords accountable to maintain their properties, a well as offer programs to encourage them to do so. Dubois-Walton said the city should carefully oversee groups that purchase large numbers of apartments “to ensure that no monopoly is existing that adversely impacts the affordable housing portfolio.”

The report will recommend additional permitting for rooming houses, an issue that was the initial reason the Board of Alders wanted a task force after a number of single room occupancy (SRO) apartments were lost when the Duncan Hotel was sold and is currently being upgraded.

It talks about the need for transitional housing for the homeless that would be tied to job training so the occupants would be able to quickly sustain themselves.

Edward Mattison, chairman of the City Plan Commission, said the task force received a lot of support for “land use efficiency.”

He said New Haven only has a certain amount of land “and we don’t always use it as well as we might.” He suggested an inventory be taken of the numerous small lots available throughout the city to see whether they could be developed with housing. This would dovetail with zoning changes to allow for smaller lot sizes.

Inclusionary zoning was the most popular recommendation from the public, in which developers would be encouraged to provide some affordable units in their plans. Mattison said it is complicated legal issue, but he said New Haven should take advantage of the high-end housing boom currently underway to work with developers on it.

Mattison said the city should bring in experts to do a study on such a zoning change for a formal policy on what now are ad hoc discussions with developers.

The report is looking at congregate housing, as well as a broader definition of “family members” living together. The suggestion is to increase it from four to six. He said people are currently violating this rule now and “it should be brought into the open.

The group also talked about allowing single-family homes to rent out two rooms, rather than only one. Building ancillary apartments was also on their agenda.

He said many cities have eliminated parking requirements, something that is already being cut back in New Haven. He said allowing residences in business zones was discussed as was taxing AirB&Bs.

Alder Aaron Greenberg, D-8, who facilitated the task force, recommended that a permanent commission be established to oversee the affordable housing issue and stay on top of local, state and federal policy decisions. The new group would be staffed by the head of the Livable City Initiative.

There will be another meeting of the task force on Jan. 15 and then a vote on a final report on Jan. 24 with copies available before that session. The draft report was not circulated Wednesday, but rather members read bullet points from six sections.

mary.oleary@hearstmediact.com; 203-641-2577

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