Canton commission considers 15 % affordability requirement for future housing developments
Public also invited to housing forum on Sept. 11, in addition to Sept. 20 commission hearing
By John Fitts
CANTON – The topic of affordable housing is a prominent one in town this month.
On Sept. 11, Canton Public Library and Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion are co-sponsoring a forum on affordable housing and the state law that governs it.
Additionally, the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing the evening of Sept. 20 as it considers requiring a 15-percent affordable component for new residential developments.
Like many area towns, Canton is currently below the appeals threshold for affordable housing stock under state statute 8-30g.
The statute, in part, provides ways to set aside deed-restricted units for a period of time, for families earning 60 percent or 80 percent of the state or area median income. Those units, as well as other forms of government housing and loans, qualify as affordable housing stock under 8-30g.
According to The Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), the 80 percent income level for Canton is $94,500 for a family of 4. The median income for the family of 4, according to the HUD site, is $118,100. (Canton is listed as part of the “Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT HUD Metro FMR Area.)”
According to a section of the state statute the town is examining, 30 percent or less of that income should be used for housing.
While there are different interpretations of the threshold, the state Department of Housing’s affordable appeals web site indicates that communities with fewer than 10 percent of those officially recorded affordable units are subject to an appeals process that makes it much easier for a developer to build an 8-30g project – even if it doesn’t conform to the town’s zoning regulations. The town, in that case, has a very limited say in that situation, only being allowed to deny an application due to health or safety concerns. In such an appeal, the burden of proof is also on the town.
In the 2022 state list on approved affordable units, Canton was at 8.3 percent. That means 360 of 4,339 housing units qualify under the statute. That number includes a mix of government assisted, tenant rental assistance, qualified mortgages from CHFA/USDA and deed-restricted units.
However, officials expect that number to decrease - even as housing options in Canton increase.
In a memo to Canton commissioners earlier this year, assistant Canton town Planner Nathaniel Jarvie notes the 102-unit apartment building at 5 Cherry Brook, as well as the 32-unit apartment building being constructed at 401 Albany Turnpike, the planned 55-unit complex at 75 Old Canton Road and a planned 5-unit townhouse at 375 Albany Turnpike.
In addition to those mentioned in that memo, there are also plans for a 34-home housing plan at the former site of Applegate Farm on Lawton and Washburn Roads.
Despite regular requests from the commission, developers of those complexes declined to commit affordable units.
“Currently, Canton has a stock of affordable units that amounts to about 8% of the total housing in the municipality,” Jarvie wrote in the memo. “However, that percentage will decline as new dwelling units are added. There are numerous opportunities for future, single family, two- family, and multi-family dwellings to be added to the community. Some consideration should be given to potential standards that would promote, and or require, the inclusion of affordable housing units when possible.”
Additionally, deed-restricted units are set aside for specific time periods, and some homes that are currently included in that 8 percent will be coming off the rolls.
The commission has discussed the issue several times this year, expressing concern about falling behind the state goal, as well as a more general concern of many getting priced out of living in town.
In addition to the state goal, Jarvie noted that concept of housing options more generally in his February memo.
“Furthermore, the Commission ought to consider how to increase the stock of starter homes for young families, options for seniors, and for the disabled,” he wrote. “In a survey associated with the Affordable Housing Plan, at least 80% of respondents listed those three housing options as very/somewhat important. In order to meet these future needs, actions must be taken, especially given the national housing crisis.”
One idea is requiring developers to set aside a portion of units as affordable.
On Sept. 20, the commission will take comments regarding a proposal to require – in regard to housing developments - that to require “15% of all units, rounded down to the nearest whole number, shall be income restricted affordable housing dwelling units meeting the income criteria of CGS § 8-30g(k), as enforced by state regulations, a minimum of 50% of the affordable dwellings must meet 60% income threshold requirements.”
At a July 26 commission meeting member Michael Vogel spoke in favor of the proposal.
“We’ve got perhaps a societal goal of having affordable housing, but we also have a legislative decision and directive from the state legislature that we have an obligation as town to have a plan and get to 10 percent affordable housing and we’re not there” he said. “And the reason why I think this is appropriate to put on developers of multi-unit housing – which I think we need – is that they are bringing us further away from that goal. We’re going to be adding a lot of units that are not affordable units and our percentage is going down. So, I think it’s fair to say there’s a lot of demand to build residential housing in Canton – I think that’s great - but we want that to get us towards our goal. I think 15 percent gets us toward our goal.”
Commission member Lans Perry spoke to several aspects of housing. He’s one that emphasizes that the 10 percent is a negotiated number, not a mandate.Perry also touted Accessory Dwelling Units as a way to provide housing for people and income for owners; lamented putting too much burden on developers when all citizens should be involved, but ultimately felt the tool was a good one.
“I want to reiterate for the 3,000th time, that 10 percent is not a goal in the statute, it was simply a negotiated number that the legislature came up with that exempted people from 8-30g,” he said. “Our statutory duty is to facilitate housing for people of all sorts of situations and income levels and I think what is proposed is a good component of that effort.”
Perry said he has also visited affordable projects, like one in Lisbon that was built despite efforts to stop it.
“The units are great. I don’t know what the fight was about. It’s just tragic that so much angst goes into the fact that ‘we lose local control.’ The design is good. It’s pleasant; it’s good for the society and the legislature has recognized that local people frequently don’t want to provide affordable housing and they come up with pretext after pretext and 8-30g was a way to get over it. And I don’t think it something to be terrified of – having seen a lot of them. I just want to add that in. So, it’s the boogeyman but it’s not that bad of a boogeyman.”
The commission also discussed the general negative reaction to multi-family projects in town. While the commission is looking at some aspects of the town’s form-based code and other documents to possible re-evaluate specific requirements – such as “private” open space within a development, building heights, setbacks and others – Commission chair Jonathan Thiesse, at the July meeting, reiterated a point he’s made many times – that the commission can not legally and arbitrarily decide how many multi-family projects it can approve.
While some towns have taken the step of a housing moratorium to deal with affordability and other concerns, Thiesse also contended the town could not take that step.
“The state statute as rewritten, with respect to multifamily dwellings specifically says that we cannot set a limit on multi family dwellings in the town,” he said. “Again, we can talk to our town attorney about this, but my feeling on that is that means we cannot do a moratorium either. If you’re doing a moratorium you’re setting a limit. … We’ve got to accept them. We’ve just got to get regulations in place that manages them in a way that we want to.”
A few commissioners seemed to disagree about the possibility of a moratorium but as one noted, such a move could take longer than establishing the 15 percent set aside.
The Planning and Zoning Commission hearing is set for Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Canton Community Center, 40 Dyer Ave.
As the date nears, the official agenda and meeting packet will be posted at https://townofcantonct.org/agendas-minutes-meetings
The Sept. 11 forum will give residents the chance to hear from at least two experts on the subject of 8-30g, including what it does and does not include and require. They will also speak to the difference between affordable and low-income housing.
As noted in a C.A.R.E. press release, “One speaker will be land use lawyer Mike Zizka, author of, “What’s Legally Required? A Guide to the Legal Rules for Making Local Land Use Decisions in the State of Connecticut,” and “State and Local Land Use Liability,” an annually updated national treatise on land-use regulation. Zizka has been recognized as an outstanding lawyer nationally and statewide more than a dozen times. The other speaker will be David Fink, housing consultant for the South Central Regional Council of Governments and former government reporter and editor at The Hartford Courant. Fink speaks to residents and municipal leaders about affordable housing options across the state.”
The hybrid meeting, at 7 p.m. in Room F of the Community Center, will be in-person, and people can also connect remotely. To register, visit the Programs page on the Canton Public Library website at www.cantonpubliclibrary.org