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Heading For The Exit

Anti-Development Attitudes Blamed For State Population Loss

BY ERIC GERSHON

February 16, 2008

Theories abound to explain why Connecticut and other Northeastern states continue to lose residents to places south of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi River the allure of better weather, lower taxes, faster job growth, cheaper housing.

Demographer Peter Francese puts housing at the top of his list and says Connecticut's bad attitude about housing development gives the edge to the likes of North Carolina, Nevada, Texas and Tennessee.

"It's very simple," he told policy makers, housing advocates and industry boosters Friday at a forum co-hosted by the Partnership for Strong Communities and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. "In those states, developers are not the enemy."

Restrictive zoning rules in Connecticut and New England generally, such as multi-acre lot requirements and high impact fees, discourage construction of middle-income housing by driving up developers' costs, said Francese, founder of American Demographics magazine.

Yet many voters in Connecticut, where the median age is rising, seek tough zoning laws to discourage young families with children, fearing they will drive up school enrollments and property taxes, he said.

"'Keep the damn kids out,'" he said, parroting what he said was their attitude.

Connecticut's population isn't falling: Births and foreign immigration have prevented a decline. But established residents are leaving more than 10,000 annually, on average, since 2000.

From mid-2000 to mid-2007, Connecticut lost 78,000 more residents than arrived from other states, according to U.S. Census estimates for the period provided by Francese. Only eight other states experienced greater net outflows of existing residents than Connecticut; in New England, only Massachusetts saw a larger number of residents hit the trail: more than 300,000.

"If you continue on your present course, work force growth will go to zero," Francese, a demographer with the nonprofit New England Economic Partnership, said in an interview before his address.

New York, California and Illinois saw the greatest net loss of residents to others states in the period, followed by New Jersey, Michigan, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Connecticut and Kansas.

By contrast, Southern states and a pair in the Southwest have been magnets for the disaffected.

Florida had a net gain of 1.3 million migrants from other states, according to Francese's data. Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia filled out the top five.

Francese, who lives in New Hampshire a New England state that levies no income or sales taxes and attracts migrants says middle-class housing construction in Connecticut would go a long way to keeping state residents here

The issue of migration away from Connecticut has been studied for years, with possible solutions ranging from boosting the region's vibrancy efforts to bring back a major-league hockey team use that argument to job fairs aimed at helping young people. Francese advocates a regional approach to school financing, which he said would remove towns' incentives to reject housing plans.

The state especially needs rental units and starter homes to retain and attract younger workers with full careers ahead of them, those in the 25-34 age group.

Not only are younger residents more likely to remain part the work force for longer; they also tend to spend more than older people.

"Without a sufficient rental stock, you don't have any hope of keeping the younger people," he said.

Even Connecticut's business boom town, Stamford, faces looming work force shortages due to insufficient worker housing, said Joe McGee of The Business Council of Fairfield County.

Bankers at UBS headquarters and local hedge funds might be able to afford houses, or apartments in New York City, but their companies also employ secretaries, human resources clerks and cafeteria workers.

"You're not going to pay someone who works in your cafeteria $150,000 a year," he said.

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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