Editorial: State’s housing crunch grows more urgent

Construction workers renovate Colonial Village buildings in Norwalk in 2021.

Construction workers renovate Colonial Village buildings in Norwalk in 2021.

Erik Trautmann, Staff Photographer / Hearst Connecticut Media

As work at the General Assembly gets underway at the start of a new session, lawmakers are taking on any number of major challenges. Health care, education and tax policy will all be in focus this year, and though the budget situation is much improved over previous years, there will no doubt be plenty of debate on spending priorities in the weeks and months to come.

But one issue has taken on a special urgency, and it’s one the state has too often ignored. Housing, however, can no longer be overlooked. The state is in an untenable position.

Legislators were presented with some sobering numbers this week. According to testimony from a real estate industry expert, the entire state has only about 3,600 homes for sale . That’s down from about 17,000 homes for sale in 2017.

The housing debate often focuses on affordability, or on who is allowed to build what in which circumstances. But that number, which ought to get the attention of everyone in the Capitol, reveals a simple lack of availability at any price.

The effect is predictable. According to the same expert, the median price for a single-family home in Connecticut has increased to $339,000 in 2022 from $235,000 in 2017. That’s out of reach for many people who live here and just as many who are interested in moving to Connecticut. It’s absolutely stifling to economic growth.

The state has thousands of unfilled jobs. If every person looking for work took the first employment offer they found, we’d still be well short of filling those positions. We need more people.

But not only does the state lack affordable places for people to live in proximity to those jobs, it lacks housing altogether. The result is that what is available is out of reach for too many people.

We know why this happens. Multifamily housing is too often demonized as a source of social ills, bringing down property values and increasing quality-of-life problems. But none of that has to be true. Multifamily homes are simply places where people live, just like anything else.

The onus to make decisions on whether such construction is allowed is on the local decisionmakers, and those officials are too often deferential to the complaints of neighbors who don’t want anything to change. “Local control” sounds nice, but the overall effect is that little gets built because too many people are up in arms about every proposal.

Only the state is in a position to change that. By loosening zoning laws and reducing the ability of neighbors to stop projects they simply don’t like on properties they don’t own, more projects could move forward. As another expert testified in Hartford, lawmakers must take a close look at ending exclusionary zoning and loosening aesthetic requirements.

Despite the clear evidence that the state is in a housing crisis, it’s not clear how change will happen. Too many suburban representatives push the other way, condemning the state law that allows affordable housing to be built over a town’s objections if certain re quirements are met. There are far too many people in power moving the wrong way.

That needs to change. The issue is not going away.