The run-up of housing costs in the state in recent years has a
dark side. It has made it increasing difficult, often impossible,
for many working people to buy or even rent a home. In some places,
families are doubling and tripling up, or paying a prohibitive
percentage of their incomes for housing.
The shortage of affordable housing is a millstone around neck
of the state economy because companies need workers and workers
Lawmakers can do something about the problem by supporting state
Treasurer Denise L. Nappier's proposal to create a $100 million
housing trust fund financed by bonds backed by the millions of
dollars in abandoned property the treasury acquires each year.
Ms. Nappier believes the trust fund would help create nearly 9,000
units of housing over 10 years, and trigger additional construction.
A blue ribbon commission said five years ago that the state was
short 68,000 units of affordable housing. Since then, the price
of housing has increased 60 to 80 percent, while wages have gone
up 13 to 15 percent. With the price of land continually bid up,
it has become uneconomical for developers to build affordable housing.
A bill that would create the housing trust fund has cleared three
legislative committees and garnered bipartisan support. It's also
been enthusiastically supported by the business community, which
understands the connection between housing and jobs. This has never
been a secret; in the 19th century, industrialists such as Sam
Colt built housing for workers.
The idea of a revolving fund to aid in the construction or rehabilitation
of affordable housing isn't new; 34 states have such funds in some
form. The financing mechanism proposed by Ms. Nappier is innovative,
but apparently sound. She said the state has brought in an average
of $37 million a year in unclaimed property since 1991, and that
it would take $15 million a year to support the housing fund.
That's $15 million that wouldn't go to the general fund, but if
it strengthens the state's economy by anything close to the 15,000
jobs the treasurer projects, it would be worth the investment.
Two goals would be met if the new money was spent on housing near
transit stations or stops. The availability of transit lowers the
cost of living for working-class homebuyers. Conversely, more customers
should translate to better transit service.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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