Opponents like to assert that Fair Share takes away local control, but they are misunderstanding the proposal and how zoning laws work. To begin with, while Fair Share sets a fair affordable housing production goal and threshold requirements for each municipality, towns can plan to meet those goals in a way that works with their own community development vision. In addition, in Connecticut, like most places around the country, the power to zone is delegated from the state to localities in accordance with certain rules. In our state, those rules include each town playing a part in contributing to meeting the regional need for affordable housing. Municipalities have the full power to zone as long as they follow these rules, including allowing a reasonable amount of affordability that contributes to the overall need.
Those opposed to Fair Share, and really any effort to generate more affordability, frequently raise concerns about the impact affordable housing development will have on their town's "character," a term that is vague and means different things to different people. Fair Share creates a planning and zoning structure that incentivizes towns to allow for affordability, but within their own community vision - including local sensibilities about architecture, town layout, and history. To the extent "character" is interpreted to mean a predominantly single-family home municipality cannot have denser housing that is more affordable, that simply runs contrary to the state law delegating zoning powers to municipalities on the condition that they permit some affordability.
For opponents, the term "affordable housing" evokes images of 40 story public housing projects located in struggling communities. That specter misunderstands what Fair Share is proposing and the history behind why certain areas are struggling. While Fair Share empowers towns to develop their own plans for incorporating affordability into their housing stock, the way that is happening around the nation is through mixed income housing with affordable components - much of which is mid-sized (40 units or less), "missing middle" (10-20 units) or even "gentle density" (under 10 units). It can be built as inclusionary developments (a portion affordable, a portion market rate) or it can be supported by government investment. The point is - the municipality gets to choose - and as a general matter, denser housing will result in an increase in state and local tax revenue to the tune of at least $9.6 billion.
In NJ, municipalities have developed all kinds of creative approaches to promoting affordable housing. From inclusionary zoning to pursuing state and federal housing subsidies, NJ municipalities are figuring out how to play a role in meeting their region's affordable housing needs. This includes some towns opting for the default zoning, meaning they do not need to go through the process of planning and re-zoning.
To the contrary, Fair Share is intentionally designed to take local factors into consideration in several ways. First, each town is only participating in meeting the need for affordable housing in its region, so the Windham region is not expected to absorb the need of the Hartford region and the Litchfield region is not expected to host any of the need in the Fairfield region. Second, the regional share is allocated considering each town's individual track record with creating affordable housing and capacity to host more, meaning under Fair Share a town with fewer resources and higher levels of existing affordable units might be expected to grow in affordable units at a rate of .3% a year while a town with lots of resources and virtually no affordability would grow at an annual rate of 1.6%. Third, within the Fair Share parameters, each town is empowered to do its own planning and zoning to attain its Fair Share goal, so the results are completely individual.
Throughout Connecticut, there is untapped potential to create housing that is more affordable, both on and off sewer and water infrastructure. Where there is infrastructure capacity, zoning at moderately increased densities can significantly increase the availability of mixed income housing. In many cases, developers can become financial partners in expanding sewer and water capacity where there is existing infrastructure. Where water and/or sewer infrastructure is not currently available, developers can likewise be financial partners supporting the extension of services and, for smaller-scale "missing middle" developments, existing septic systems or innovative community septic systems can easily accommodate slightly denser homes. For more in depth discussion of water and sewer questions, check out OCA's Everything and the Kitchen Sink fact sheet.
With Fair Share, towns would typically grow from between .3%-1.6% a year in deed-restricted affordable units. Towns may also decide to grow by additional percentages in market rate units. After decades of under-investment in housing and restrictive zoning regulations in many municipalities, the need for affordable housing in Connecticut is substantial at around 135,000 units over 10 years. If every town does a portion of this, we can get it done.