Richard Porth, President & CEO, United Way of Connecticut
A number of years ago, I served on the Planning Commission for the City of Trenton. I was happy to serve, but the long hours, the tough (sometimes unpopular) decisions, and the limited training that many volunteers on Planning and Zoning Commissions experience often made this service really difficult.
Over time I came to realize how important Planning and Zoning Commissions are and the crucial part they play in shaping a municipality’s economic future, quality of life, and resident population. But sometimes, unintentionally, Planning and Zoning Commissions can make decisions which hamper their town’s long-term economic and social vitality and prevent younger families from living there.
In Connecticut, like other northeastern states, we worry about the out-migration of our young, talented workers, including our sons and daughters, to other states. You might think that these young people leave to pursue job opportunities elsewhere. A number of studies indicate that this may be true for some, but more often it has to do with the high cost of housing in many of our cities and towns. In fact, as documented by the Partnership for Strong Communities, Connecticut ranks sixth among states in median monthly housing costs. The lack of housing choices that are affordable at a variety of income levels forces some young people to look elsewhere to establish their household and make a new life.
This is especially true for young working families that struggle to pay for the high cost of child care and housing. United Ways in fifteen states are shining a light on this growing problem through the ALICE initiative (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). The 2016 Connecticut ALICE Report documents that households with income below the ALICE threshold, which is based on a Household Survival Budget that provides a conservative estimate for what it costs for basic necessities, make up at least 20 percent of the households in 145 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities, and 38 percent of all Connecticut households.
Thankfully the Governor, the state Department of Housing, and the legislature have made increasing affordable housing a priority, resulting in the creation of 8,500 new affordable housing units over the last six years, with more than 3,000 under construction. In addition, the state continues to incentivize the development of mixed-income projects, requiring less public subsidy and advancing economic integration. Municipalities and their Planning and Zoning Commissions can do their part by being more open to the creation of more housing choices in their communities and proactively plan for its development. It’s good for Connecticut’s long-term economic and social vitality, and good for ALICE families, many of whom are our sons and daughters.
The Partnership for Strong Communities’ first IForum for 2017 will focus on the foundational importance of local planning and zoning to increasing housing choices in towns and the need to support local decision-makers. This IForum will be held on Jan. 30th at The Lyceum in Hartford. Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein will underscore the intersection between zoning and housing affordability and panelists from around the state will impart local perspectives on the challenge.
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