Opinion: ‘it’s past time to admit that we simply do not have nearly enough affordable housing’ in CT

Feb 09, 2024

This op-ed from FCCF President & CEO, Mendi Blue Paca was originally published on CTInsider.com on February 7, 2024 and was adapted from Blue Paca’s presentation for Fairfield County Talks Housing 2024 Legislative Preview virtual event on Jan. 30, hosted by The Fairfield County Center for Housing Opportunity.

All of us deserve to live in a safe and affordable home — and here in Connecticut we have the means to make that possible.

We have the means to ensure that every person who works in our retail shops and restaurants, who teaches our children, who fights our fires, who answers the phones, and who cleans our workplaces can afford to live in the community where they work.

We have the means to ensure that our older population does not have to choose between paying their rent and buying their groceries or prescriptions.

We have the means to make it possible for hardworking adults to afford the opportunity to buy a home and build equity for themselves and future generations of their families.

But while we have the means, we haven’t mustered the will to change the fact that Fairfield County ranks last in Connecticut in most measures of affordable housing.

Fairfield County is at the epicenter of the state’s housing crisis. It is the most expensive and most residentially segregated housing market in a state that is one of the most racially and economically segregated places in the country.

And by all accounts, it’s getting worse.

According to our 2023 Community Wellbeing Index, home prices in Fairfield County have increased by nearly one-third since 2020. Rents are up an average of 22 percent.

The number of Fairfield County residents who are spending more than 30 percent of their gross monthly income on housing is growing and roughly three in five Black and Latino renters are considered cost burdened.

A big reason is that we have a shortage of more than 25,000 affordable housing units in Fairfield County. So, it’s past time to admit that we simply do not have nearly enough affordable housing.

But rather than viewing this as a deficit, let’s instead think about what’s possible if we commit to completely closing our affordable housing gap.

Not only would we be addressing an issue that we should feel a moral responsibility to solve, but we would also be addressing so many other issues. Our housing influences our health. It influences our children’s educational opportunities. It influences our ability to work. It influences our safety and security. Yet in Fairfield County and statewide, we’ve historically lacked the public and political will to produce, preserve and protect affordable housing.

But we are starting to see small signs of progress. The 2023 Housing Omnibus Bill expands key tenant protections, requires the assessment of how much affordable housing is needed in the state, and creates a new workforce housing credit.

All of these are important steps. But without more support from state lawmakers, these steps won’t bring the type of progress needed.

We need zoning reform, more investment in housing, transit-oriented development, and stronger tenant protections.

We need to pass the Work Live Ride Act to provide incentives to communities to create transit-oriented community districts.

We need to ensure we’re planning for and building enough homes and apartments to accommodate our population.

This crisis cannot be solved without smart public policy and legislative leadership.

Polling across the country and in our county shows that people want more affordable housing. Our businesses need to attract more talent, but they struggle to do so because they cannot find enough employees who can afford to live in our community. And we are pricing out young people who want to build lives here and older adults who want to retire here.

Housing opportunity is a matter of our collective interests and the legacy we’ll leave for future generations. Our progress on this issue will determine whether our children and grandchildren will be able to stay here, live here, and thrive here.

This is a question of economic sustainability for Connecticut. As lawmakers return to Hartford, now is the time to fully commit to solving the housing crisis.

If we get this right, we have an opportunity to create a brighter future for our region and our state.

It’s up to all of us to strongly advocate for housing and to our lawmakers to muster up will to make real change.