The police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis is sparking new life into long-running efforts to better integrate Connecticut, with a wide-ranging coalition announcing plans on Tuesday to push state lawmakers to pass legislation this summer that reforms land use rules.
Formed over the past few months, the group Desegregate Connecticut maintains that changing antiquated and discriminatory housing policies — and ultimately providing more diverse and affordable housing options throughout Connecticut — are crucial to addressing cries for systemic change since the death of Floyd as well as the state’s economy.
“We must tackle discrimination and segregation at one of its most insidious sources and that is our land use system and specifically zoning,” said Sara Bronin, a Desegregate Connecticut organizer, a land use law professor at the University of Connecticut Law School, architect and wife of Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.
Recommendations for legislation in the upcoming special session include allowing “accessory apartments,” small, independent living areas that would be beneficial to multi-generational families; encouraging development of two- to four-unit, small-scale housing near commercial centers and transit stations while changing density rules; reducing excessive parking requirements; and striking language in state law that has allowed local zoning boards to argue a housing project is “inconsistent with community character,” which the group contends has been code for racism and classism.
But it’s unclear when the issue might come up in the General Assembly. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced Tuesday afternoon that legislative leaders have agreed to return to the state Capitol sometime before July 31 to vote on four bills concerning police accountability, insurance coverage for telehealth medical visits, a price cap on insulin and allowing expanded absentee ballots for the upcoming November general election.
Lamont said he had not seen the proposed housing reforms but said there could be a chance for those to be considered in a second possible special legislation in the fall. The next regular legislative session begins in January.
“I think housing is obviously something very important to legislators and me, folks on both sides of the aisle,” Lamont said. “And I certainly got a sense that some of these bigger issues, such as housing, maybe deferred to a September session.”
But some of the advocates at Tuesday’s news conference insisted the General Assembly needs to do more to address the state’s racial inequities than just changing policies affecting policing in the state.
“If you’re looking at a comprehensive social justice solution, looking just at police reform is going to be symptomatic treatment,” said state Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, co-chair of the legislature’s Housing Committee and a physician.
“We need a therapeutic strategy,” he said. “And the therapeutic strategy will have to undo the 400-plus years of challenges and the last many years of the strategic way that certain people sat in a room and made a decision to try and segregate our communities.”
The Desegregate Connecticut group includes a wide range of members, including the Connecticut branch of the American Planning Association, the Urban League of Southern Connecticut, the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a group that has opposed some efforts in the past to change land use rules.
Joe DeLong, the executive director and CEO of CCM, acknowledged that the state’s largest organization of cities and towns has focused for years on preserving local control and “things that were probably a hindrance to some of these efforts.” But after Floyd’s death, he said, it became clear that CCM members needed to “reflect on ourselves” and understand whether municipal leaders in Connecticut are “part of a solution or we’re just being a quick path to no.”
While DeLong acknowledged that opinions will differ among his members about the proposed land use reforms, he urged the group not to use CCM “as a reason not to act,” noting that CCM wants to be “a part of the solution.”