Connecticut is failing to provide affordable housing for cashiers, child care workers and many of the state’s unemployed laborers

Michael Hamad, Hartford Courant
·4 min read

Connecticut is failing to provide affordable housing for essential workers and new public investment is needed, according to a report prepared for two state agencies.

And without better regional planning, the prioritization of housing based on need and “proactive” investment, Connecticut’s housing problems will surely get worse, the study’s authors predict.

The $500,000 report shows that Connecticut workers making 50 to 81 percent of county median income — janitors, administrative assistants, carpenters and others — can afford to live in many of the state’s nearly 2.2 million housing units.

But cashiers, child care workers and many of the state’s unemployed laborers who fall in the low-income (31 to 50 percent of county median income) and very low-income (30 percent or less of county median income) categories struggle to find affordable housing statewide.

“Housing Connecticut’s Future: Meeting the State’s Affordable and Accessible Housing Needs,” released Thursday and commissioned by the Department of Housing and the Department of Social Service, also shows huge disparities in home-ownership between racial and ethnic groups.

While two-thirds of all Connecticut households own their homes, only 57% of Asians, 40% of Native Americans, 39% of Blacks and 34% of Latinos fall into that category — compared with 76% of whites.

The report and an accompanying online database called AffordCT is being touted as the first comprehensive look at the state’s affordable and accessible housing needs.

“Connecticut does not have enough affordable housing for its lowest-income residents and has a growing need for accessible units for people with disabilities,” said Peter Tatian, senior fellow at Urban Institute and principal investigator for the study. “This report and database give the state crucial information that will help it address those challenges.”

At a time when affordable housing in small, wealthy Connecticut towns remains a hot-button issue across the state and in the General Assembly — DesegregateCT, a coalition of nonprofits, recently launched an interactive map zoning atlas that shows a striking lack of available zoning for multi-family housing — the report and database provide more tools for researchers, lawmakers and advocates to enter the fray.

There are currently 86,068 more households that fall in the very low-income category than there are housing units they can afford, the study suggests. None of Connecticut’s 8 counties have enough affordable housing units to meet demand; the largest gaps are found in Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven counties.

And while the total number of very low-income households is expected to decline over the next two decades, the decrease will not be significant enough.

Connecticut also has a problem with accessible housing for people with disabilities. The current supply of supportive housing doesn’t meet the demands of the roughly 22% of households that include at least one person with a disability; as the population ages, the need will grow considerably.

Project partners include Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity, the Urban Institute, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Source Development Hub, the Regional Planning Association and DataHaven.

“Strategic investments in housing are key for Connecticut’s economic recovery and can position our state as a model for housing reform nationwide,” said Christie Stewart, Director of Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity. “These new resources enable the state and other housing funders to target investments, pro-actively prioritize demand, and ensure the best use of public and private dollars.”

Connecticut lawmakers and regional housing advocates applauded Housing Connecticut’s Future and the AffordCT database.

State Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said that housing affordability is a policy area that cuts across economic, social and racial lines.

“Having high-quality data will strengthen our ability to develop policy that can help us address this issue that has serious ramifications for the moral, social, and economic health of our state,” Rojas said. “The Housing Connecticut’s Future report is a tool that should be required reading for leaders at the local and state level so together we can better understand how imperative it is to address the cost of housing.”

The new resources arrive just as arguments intensify across the state over zoning for multi-family and affordable housing in wealthy rural and suburban towns.

In Woodbridge, a proposal to build multifamily housing on a 1.5 acre residential property has neighbors and housing advocates squaring off over local rights and exclusionary land use policies and practices that may run afoul of the Fair Housing Act.

Michael Hamad can be reached at mhamad@courant.com.