Opinion: Zoning reform for more affordable, diverse housing in Connecticut


Connecticut is one of the most segregated states in the country, and we can no longer tolerate that.  There are many reasons for this segregation, but one of the most important ones is zoning.  Local governments have enacted zoning laws to control who can live in their communities.  

Segregation has deep roots in our state.  In the years after World War II, low and moderate-income families could afford to buy starter homes in growing towns, fueling the growth of our suburban communities. Those opportunities were denied to Black and Latino families through intentional policies like redlining and restrictive covenants, and through racist tactics like blockbusting and rioting.  

Today, towns use a different tactic to keep out Black and Latino residents.  Most town zoning laws say each house has to sit on one, two, or even four acres of land.  This makes building housing very expensive.  Many town zoning laws ban multifamily housing.  Or they make multifamily housing extremely expensive to build.  People in those towns often say they like things the way they are, and they don’t want new people coming in to ruin the “character” of their communities.  

Some people don’t want to believe that zoning laws have reinforced the segregational practices of the mid-twentieth century.  Politicians and community leaders based in Fairfield County in particular have said publicly that segregation isn’t real.  That it doesn’t exist.  That it isn’t caused by zoning.  But look around.  Segregation isn’t just real – it’s obvious.  How can you not go from Westport to Bridgeport and see that segregation with your own two eyes?  Unless we all start from the same facts, we’re never going to move forward.  

What many wealthy white towns are doing is pulling up the drawbridge that once provided an entry point into economic opportunity and the middle class. Today, the towns in Connecticut with the best schools, the most economic opportunity, and the best public services are inaccessible. The Latino community is shut out – even when they are middle class. 

All of our communities have suffered as a result. It’s not just Latinos. Young people, seniors, single parents, divorcees, and others don’t have good housing options. Businesses have been unable to grow because of high housing costs and a lack of housing diversity. The backbones of our communities—teachers, nurses, firemen, caregivers, police, service workers—increasingly cannot afford to live in the communities in which they work. And yes, many of those service workers are Latinos. 

There are several bills going through the legislature right now that would help improve zoning and chip away at the walls of exclusion.  Several have made it out of committee and can be brought for a vote by the full legislature.  They would calculate each towns’ fair share of multifamily housing and expand the ability of housing authorities to develop in other towns.  One bill, SB 1024, would provide clear guidance to towns about how they can zone for housing.  It would legalize the construction of accessory dwelling units, which provide low-cost housing options for renters and multigenerational families. It would enact necessary reforms to parking requirements that make housing more expensive, make our communities less walkable, and encourage driving and sprawl.  

And as originally drafted, the bill would have created more housing near transit and downtowns, providing more diversity and a greater number of housing options in these high-demand areas.  Unfortunately, legislators have stripped out the most meaningful parts of the bill — the parts about transit and downtowns.  These proposals would have encouraged the development of housing of at least two units while leaving the right to decide where housing would be located with a given municipality. Instead of offering a chance to build more small-scale multifamily housing, legislators have shied away from even this first step.  

I encourage the Latino community to speak up in favor of SB 1024 and all of the bills that aim to make it easier to build more affordable and diverse housing options in the state.  SB 1024 does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to land use. Local decision-makers have plenty of choices in the architecture and where the new housing can be. SB 1024 is the bare minimum of what towns should do. Every town with significant Black and Latino populations already far surpasses these bare minimums. If elected officials in the CGA are serious about racial equity, like they have said they are, they will restore SB 1024’s stripped proposals and pass this bill immediately. 

Miguel Castro,

Chairman of The Ct Hispanic Democratic Caucus

Beyond his duties as Chairman of The Ct Hispanic Democratic Caucus, Miguel Castro is a member The MidState Chamber of Commerce Board Of Directors, where he participates and holds additional committee assignments to the hispanic outreach leaders in action and the young business leaders of Connecticut. Castro is the former Meriden City Councilor.

Publisher’s Note: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the CTLN.

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