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What If No One Was Home?

February 18, 2007
Editorial By Courant

Here's a startling statistic that demands attention, brought to you by a coalition of smart people committed to increasing the amount of affordable housing in Connecticut: In 2005, a family earning the median income couldn't qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home in 157 of the state's 169 towns.

Lack of diverse housing is everyone's problem. Even the most affluent homeowner in the toniest suburb is affected by the decline in housing that is driving out working families, young professionals and the elderly. Without affordable housing - either starter homes or rentals - there will be fewer workers performing services that everyone needs, fewer jobs available, fewer dollars spent on goods and services, and higher taxes. Without more residences near transportation centers, traffic gridlock will only get worse.

Since 2000, despite pumping billions into higher education to reverse a brain drain, Connecticut has lost a higher percentage of adults ages 25-34 than any other state. That's partly because housing costs have risen 63.3 percent while wages went up 18.5 percent. The labor pool is shrinking and the housing supply is low. Most of the building taking place involves large, single-family suburban homes that contribute to sprawl, or over-55 housing.

This, says the coalition HOMEConnecticut, is a recipe for economic failure if not disaster.

The best minds in business, banking, academia, land use, housing and government have come up with a long-term strategy, based on one in Massachusetts, to reverse these negative trends. They say it will generate $2 for every dollar spent on their proposed program. Who could ignore that?

Legislators owe the coalition's plan a serious look. It covers lots of ground. It would increase housing by 63,000 units, both single- and multifamily, over 15 years, 20 percent of it affordable for people earning 80 percent of the median. It would provide incentives for building in special zones that allow denser development, bringing down costs to developers and preventing sprawl. Bonuses would be paid by the state to towns for added infrastructure and any additional educational costs that new housing creates.

Best of all, the program is voluntary, an important consideration in a state with a strong tradition of home rule. Towns would get to decide where to build housing. They would get technical and planning assistance and the ability to control design standards.

The existing affordable housing law enacted in 1989 has not produced the desired results. The coalition's proposal fits the agenda of Gov. M. Jodi Rell, particularly her creation of an Office for Responsible Growth, proposed budget incentives for transit-oriented development and goals to create more housing.

Why not get moving on it?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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