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CT ‘Fair Share’ Study Delayed; Won’t Be Ready Before 2025 Session

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Housing Committee chair Sen. Marilyn Moore, left, and Joe Quinn, a lawyer with the senate Democrats, talk in the senate chamber on June 7, 2023. Moore explained the housing omnibus bill to the Senate ahead of the vote June 7. Credit: Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror
In 2023, lawmakers considered a policy to implement fair share statewide, but it was changed to what was essentially a study
Ginny Monk, CT Mirror

A report on a controversial statewide zoning reform proposal that would assign each Connecticut town a certain number of housing units to plan and zone for isn’t likely to be finished ahead of the 2025 legislative session following a monthslong delay in finding a contractor to work on the project. The delay means lawmakers won’t have all the information they’d wanted to craft legislation for another try at passing the policy next year.

Democrats’ signature housing bill from the 2023 session mandated that the state Office of Policy and Management establish a methodology by Dec. 1, 2024 to determine each town’s “fair share” of the number of housing units to plan for — to be determined based on regional need for affordable housing and in a way to “affirmatively further” fair housing. The state signed a $250,000 contract with Economic Consultants Oregon, also known as ECOnorthwest, on May 17 — nearly seven months later than initially expected.

“State government has an obligation to taxpayers to ensure that state funds are properly awarded, occasionally, as was the case this time, reviewing and awarding the contract can take longer than anticipated,” OPM spokesman Chris Collibee wrote in a response to questions from The Connecticut Mirror. “As these matters involved negotiations, we cannot comment further.”

The contract, which is set to end in June 2025, asks for a draft of the fair share allocation results by January 2025, meaning some information could be available ahead of the session. Fair share is one of a couple of zoning reform policies lawmakers have considered for the past few years. The concept has been implemented in New Jersey and aims to meet regional housing needs and cut down on segregation.

Historic policies including local zoning ordinances and redlining have resulted in heightened housing segregation in Connecticut, which affects people’s access to education, food, health care, jobs and outdoor spaces such as the beach. It disproportionately impacts people of color. The state is also grappling with a lack of affordable housing and is short more than 92,500 units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest-income residents. Thousands more pay too much in housing costs.

Advocates and lawmakers had said they wanted to wait until 2025 to try again to pass a fair share policy in Connecticut. The most recent session was a short session and an election year, making it harder to pass sweeping reforms. And, they wanted to have the state’s report. “Due to delays in awarding the contract, we do not anticipate that the final report will be complete by the beginning of the 2025 legislative session, we have communicated this with appropriate legislators,” Collibee said.

But they hadn’t gotten in touch with House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, one of the legislature’s foremost housing advocates. “My hope is that there will be enough information to consider something in the spring,” Rojas said Wednesday, referring to the 2025 legislative session.

Fair share is a contentious policy proposal in Connecticut. The request for the methodology alone drew hours of debate on the floor of the House and Senate. Opponents said they fear the report is the first step toward implementing a policy they view as unworkable. They say such zoning reform would weaken local control and impose one-size-fits-all solutions on towns.

In 2023, lawmakers initially considered a policy that would implement fair share statewide, but it was changed to what was essentially a study at the end of the session. “There will be something done with those numbers. That’s the clear answer,” said Housing Committee ranking member Rep. Tony Scott, R-Monroe, during a 2023 debate. Supporters view it as a way to push towns that have been reticent to build more housing to do so. They also say it would cut down on segregation and has had success in New Jersey.

“It’s hard to understand the delay in selecting a new consultant,” said Erin Boggs, executive director at the Open Communities Alliance. The alliance was one of the leading groups in a coalition that supported fair share called Growing Together Connecticut. “The crisis persists,” Boggs said. “I think there are things that need to come together to have a real shot at fair share, but one of those things is the presence of the need. It’s not going to go away.”