A bill before the state legislature would allow housing authorities to extend their jurisdictions to administer Section 8 vouchers and develop low-income and affordable housing developments in cities and towns within 30 miles of their existing municipal borders.
The bill passed out of the legislative Housing Committee by a 9-5 vote with Republican members opposing the proposal.
HB 7067 would allow housing authorities to expand certain “high” and “very high” opportunity areas as determined by the Department of Housing. The aim is to increase affordable housing in high opportunity areas.
Supporters say it would allow larger housing authorities, with significant knowledge of development, to assist or partner with officials in smaller towns.
Existing law requires the DOH to operate a residence mobility counseling program to help certain individuals and families relocate to higher opportunity areas through education and support services. The DOH classifies opportunity areas
using a mapping analysis that incorporates an evaluation of educational, economic, and neighborhood characteristics across census tracts. The analysis, made available on DOH’s website, also looks at education data and crime rates.
“High” and “very high” opportunity areas are generally located in suburbs and are spread throughout the state, while Hartford, New Britain, Waterbury, and other cities are mostly rated as offering “low” or “very low” opportunity.
A similar bill stalled before the Housing Committee last year, but that bill included a provision that would allow input from the “opportunity area” town. The new bill does not.
Some municipalities continue to fall short of a state mandate that at least 10 percent of their housing stocks be considered affordable. Critics have accused some municipalities of dragging their feet in meeting the requirement.
According to Open Communities Alliance, over three-quarters of all available government-supported housing is in the lower opportunity areas of the state and “this has not changed in decades.”
“Any state or society that systematically restricts people of certain backgrounds and financial status to a very limited space negatively impacts their own sustainability,” Sen. Saud Anwar D-South Windsor, co-chair of the Housing Committee, said in a statement. Anwar’s district also includes East Windsor and East Hartford.
The new bill would allow, through the DOH, a housing authority to enter into a contract or contracts with another authority, municipal developer, or nonprofit corporation or into a housing partnership for state financial assistance for housing projects.
The bill received support at a February public hearing held by the New Haven and Fairfield-Westport housing authorities, as well as the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Open Communities Alliance, Connecticut Legal Services and Charter Oak Communities.
Zachary McKeown, a legislative associate for the Connecticut Conference for Municipalities, questioned some definitions in the bill and how designations of “high or very high opportunity” would be determined.
State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, a ranking member on the Housing Committee, opposed the bill as written because it eliminated local input. Hwang, who also represents Westport, Easton and Newtown, supported the version from last year that provided for local input before expanding a jurisdiction.
“It is an incredibly laudable program because not every town has housing authorities,” Hwang said. “This bill and its full language would allow housing authorities to impose their sense of housing needs without local inputs. That was a ‘no’ for me. I would rather have a collaborative effort.”
He points to the Fairfield Housing Authority, which collaborates on projects with the town of Westport because it has no housing authority. Projects are done with Westport approval.
But Easton, to the north, is 70 percent watershed and has 1-acre to 3-acre zoning requirements.
Hwang expressed concern that the bill, as written, would allow the Fairfield housing authority to develop projects without abiding by Easton’s regulations.
“That housing authority could say, ‘we know better,’” Hwang said. “It would take away the local input.”