For a Connecticut resident who’s surfing around the internet, the frequency with which our state is referred to as “one of the most segregated states in the nation” is both discouraging and embarrassing. That segregation is generally characterized as being along both income and racial lines. A couple of years ago, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin referred to “some of the starkest disparities you’ll find anywhere in the nation.”
Indeed, the personal-finance website wallethub.com lists Connecticut as the 36th most integrated state, racially — below Mississippi and Alabama.
Much of the blame for that status, suggests Connecticut Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, can be laid to current state law that requires zoning regulations to consider the “character of the district” when writing zoning regulations. Preserving the character of the town, Looney has said, is “shorthand for white and wealthy.”
But the General Assembly has now sent legislation to the governor’s desk, The CT Mirror reports, that would remove that “character” provision and encourage towns to loosen restrictive zoning policies that are believed to drive up housing prices, keep exclusive suburbs exclusive, and keep Connecticut “one of the most segregated states.”
This is progress, but it certainly is not a radical move. House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, called it “painfully incremental” because it had been watered down so much. Language was scrapped that would have required towns to allow multi-unit housing around some train stations, along with language that would have told each town how many affordable units it must allow.
The legislation would require towns to allow single-family homeowners to convert parts of their property into so-called accessory dwelling units, or mother-in-law apartments, without needing special permission, and would limit how many parking spaces a new unit must have — but towns would be able to opt out of both of those provisions.
Still, the bill was controversial, with critics saying that it will change the character of small towns and that it constitutes overreach by state government.
But Desegregate CT, the group behind the bill, says it “will benefit a wide variety of Connecticut residents, including the elderly, young people” and people who simply cannot afford to live near where they work.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s previous stance has been to favor local control over zoning issues, but we encourage him to take the modest step of signing this bill.