By SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut state lawmakers voted Monday to update a long-standing affordable housing law, arguing it will generate more reasonably priced housing across the state. They overrode a gubernatorial veto in the process.
The resurrected legislation essentially revamps the nearly 30-year-old law to make it easier for municipalities to reach a threshold of having at least 10 percent of their housing considered affordable.
“If we do not make changes and we continue to do the same thing _ to apply a statute that has not kept up with the times _ we are doing a disservice,” said Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield. “We are not solving the problem.”
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other opponents of the bill that originally passed during the regular legislative session contend it should be nixed because it weakens the state’s affordable housing standards. They also argued the legislation makes it more difficult for moderate-income people, such as police officers and teachers, to find affordable housing in communities where they work. In his veto message, Malloy called it “imperative for our state’s economy” to provide more housing that’s within a reasonable commuting distance.
“Just because the Legislature passed something, that doesn’t make it a good thing,” said Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, who urged his House colleagues to sustain Malloy’s veto. Soto argued there is still a great need for the current law, noting how 97 out of 169 Connecticut communities have less than five percent of their housing that’s considered affordable.
But proponents contend the current law needs to be updated, arguing that “predatory developers” are misusing it to skirt local zoning authorities in certain communities. They also maintain the vetoed bill would ultimately lead to more affordable housing opportunities once cities and towns have more control over affordable housing projects.
“It is just a tweak of a statute that affords the opportunity for towns to determine where affordable housing will be built and that people will have housing opportunities they never had before,” said Rep. Larry Butler, D-Waterbury, a co-chairman of the Legislature’s Housing Committee. Butler helped to negotiate the compromise bill during the General Assembly’s regular session, which ended June 7. It originally passed the House of Representatives on a 116-33 vote and the Senate on a vote of 30-6.
On Monday, the House voted 101-47 in a special veto session to override Malloy’s veto and make the changes to the underlying affordable housing law. The Senate later voted 24-12 in favor of an override. The General Assembly did not attempt to override any of Malloy’s other three vetoes.
A two-thirds vote of the elected membership in both the House and Senate is needed to repass a vetoed bill.
A spokesman for the governor said the “best interest of our residents and communities were not served by this action.”
Monday’s debate underscored a strong disagreement about whether the decades-old law needs to be changed. Housing advocates have argued the statute has been a success and led to affordable homes for tens of thousands of residents. In testimony submitted in February, David Fink, a consultant and former policy director for the housing advocacy group Partnership for Strong Communities, noted “the need for affordable homes in high-resource communities is dire” in Connecticut, which has the nation’s sixth highest median monthly housing costs.
But critics of the underling law said it allows affordable housing developers to override local planning and zoning laws if a town’s affordable housing stock is less than 10 percent and locate developments that are at odds with a community’s unique character or long-range development plans. It also does not allow communities to count some existing affordable housing toward the threshold, such as a mobile home park in Milford or elderly housing Fairfield.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said the current standard is “impossible to achieve,” noting how not a single mid-sized city in Connecticut has “been able to come close to this goal” in the past three decades.
Among other things, the vetoed bill would expand the unit types that count toward the 10 percent threshold.
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