It has been more than 25 years since Connecticut passed a state law requiring the state's towns to ensure that 10% of the housing in each town is "affordable." New Canaan, Conn., one of the most upscale towns in the state (if not the nation), has a long way to go: "In New Canaan, where the average home sells for $1.4 million, that number stands at 2.7 percent," the New York Times reported this week (see: "In Wealthy Pocket of Connecticut, an Innovative Approach to Affordable Housing," by Matt A. V. Chaban). Still, New Canaan's effort can be seen as a success, the Times reported: "In Fairfield County, by many measures the most economically stratified county in perhaps the most economically stratified state in the country, New Canaan has recently become something of an affordable housing leader."
The reason, the Times reported, is that Connecticut's state policy applies serious pressure to town policymakers: If they don't make good progress toward the 10% affordable-housing goal, the state overrides local zoning. In that case, the Times reported, "developers effectively have the right to ignore zoning restrictions and build whatever housing they want, so long as 30 percent of those units are set aside as affordable."
To keep control of the situation, New Canaan in 2007 created an affordable housing fund, paid for with a surcharge on building permits for all new or renovated homes, the Times reported. The money has been used to expand the town's supply of affordable units, fending off the state mandate for now. But a scarcity of developable land has local planners wondering how long they can keep up the effort. Recent projects have involved teardowns of single-family homes to build dense cluster housing, but even that strategy has limits.
For more coverage, see: "Demolition to make way for affordable housing," by Greg Reilly (NCAdvertiser); "New Canaan affordable housing moratorium within reach," by Justin Papp (New Canaan News).