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March 8, 2024

CT affordable housing bill passes committee — with some funding removed

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR State Rep. Tony Scott and State Sens. Rob Sampson and Marilyn Moore listen to testimony during a Housing Committee meeting.

Democrats on the Housing Committee passed a bill Thursday that aims to increase affordable housing supply in the state, although the measure saw significant amendments since a public hearing earlier in the week.

The amendments included the removal of millions of dollars targeted at homelessness response and rental assistance, and a change to a proposal regarding housing authority jurisdiction that some people had raised concerns about at the public hearing. Committee leadership said they wanted to put the funding in another bill.

Senate Bill 6, the Democrats’ housing priority bill, would create a housing growth fund, allow housing authorities to build in other towns and offer certain tax incentives to turn former commercial properties into residential dwellings, among other measures.

The Housing Committee heard public testimony on the proposal Tuesday, and passed the measure along party lines Thursday. The meeting was the last for the committee this session, its leadership said.

Supporters spoke during the public hearing about Connecticut’s need for more housing for families with low incomes and the need for more apartments and homes so that employees can move to the state.

Republicans opposed various pieces of the bill, including certain tax changes, saying additional costs would be passed down to renters. 

The bill initially allowed housing authorities to act as developers and propose building new housing in towns outside their own in a similar process to private developers.

Opponents during the public hearing said they didn’t want other housing authorities building in their towns, particularly not without an agreement. Housing co-chair Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, said the bill had been amended in part to address those concerns.

Since Tuesday’s public hearing, lawmakers added a provision that requires housing authorities that opt to expand their jurisdiction to enter into agreements with towns before developing any housing. Measures to give additional funds to the state’s homeless response system and Rental Assistance Program have also been removed.

Moore said she plans to push for the funding to go separately into the state budget, but wanted to remove them from S.B. 6 so the bill wouldn’t need to go through the Appropriations Committee. The bill could face an uphill battle during the budget debate, as lawmakers grapple with numerous requests for increases in aid from social service providers, higher education institutions and others while trying to remain within the state’s fiscal guardrails.

S.B. 6 initially included $20 million from the general fund to support the strained homeless response system and $25 million to the state Rental Assistance Program to expand the number of vouchers and keep up with rising rents.

The proposal is one of a few ideas lawmakers are debating this session in an attempt to address Connecticut’s affordable housing crisis. The state lacks about 92,500 units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest income renters. Thousands are paying too much in rent, homelessness is increasing and the state has a low apartment vacancy rate.

“There’s no doubt that housing costs and availability in Connecticut are front and center on everyone’s mind. Our recent public hearing on this and other housing bills went 12 hours, and we heard from more than 200 people, Moore said in a statement. 

“I think the Housing Committee has done more work in the past four years — since the COVID-19 pandemic turned housing prices and availability upside-down in Connecticut — than we’ve done over the past decade,” she said. “But it’s a gradual process.”

Housing has garnered more political attention both at the state level and nationally over the past couple of years. Ahead of this legislative session, state lawmakers said they planned to chip away at the problem rather than propose sweeping reforms.

S.B. 6 is a wide-ranging bill, although it doesn’t include some of the broad statewide zoning reforms pushed last legislative session. The bill establishes a housing growth fund to towns that create affordable housing, offers tax credits to property owners who convert commercial buildings into residential developments and creates an additional 1% conveyance tax fee when institutions rather than individuals purchase property.

It also decreases sales tax on supplies used to build more residential developments with at least 50 units.

Republicans objected to the bill, saying that it would primarily benefit larger towns and that the housing growth fund didn’t offer incentives for towns to encourage homeownership. They also opposed the conveyance fee, saying the additional cost would be passed down to renters.

“If the taxes go up, it’s my fear that the people we’re trying to help … we certainly could make it more difficult for a renter or resident coming in to pick up that additional tab that you know, the taxes collected, that’s going to be passed on to the consumer,” said Rep. Steve Weir, R-Hebron.

Moore said the bill is another push to take steps to solve the housing crisis, but not the complete solution.

“This program is not one to fit all sizes, but it’s another program that we put in place for growth in the housing market,” she said.

S.B. 6 next heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

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