Opinion: Stamford must build more homes

Stamford, Connecticut in March 2021.

Stamford, Connecticut in March 2021.

Patrick Sikes / For Hearst Connecticut Media

The recent rezoning of office parks, which allows small-scale multifamily homes (14 units an acre) in underused commercial property, is a good forward-looking policy that helps marginally alleviate the housing shortage by incrementally allowing more development in an unobtrusive fashion.

Stamford, as the most important city in the region, should be looking for more ways to grow its housing stock. Unfortunately, a vocal group of anti-development NIMBYs seems intent on overturning this change with the cooperation of some members of the Board of Representatives. In the midst of a massive regional housing shortage that is impoverishing the middle class and driving people away from the state, it is fundamentally undemocratic and unjust that we allow a vocal minority of incumbent homeowners to block progress for the next generation.

Stepping back, we are in the midst of a national and regional housing crisis caused by decades of underbuilding homes — as evidenced by rising rents, a shortage of homes for sale, and low apartment vacancy rates. This has been recognized by the Biden Administration, regional planning associations, and local Stamford-specific studies. As a result, the middle and working class are burdened with high housing costs and many younger people and new families are moving away from the region. There is no way to get around that Stamford (along with neighboring towns) need to allow a significant number of more homes to be built over many years to alleviate supply pressures and create more spaces for the next generation to live in. Without enough new homes to go around, new demand from younger families and job-seekers is overwhelming the existing housing supply, leading to displacement, rising rents, and homelessness.

At the state level, the Desegregate Connecticut coalition is pushing the state legislature to pass laws to ensure that the exclusionary towns surrounding Stamford do their part to ensure enough production of homes. But Stamford, as the most important city in the region, must also step up.

While Stamford has admirably grown its housing stock more than the surrounding exclusionary suburbs, the bulk of development has been concentrated in downtown and the South End. The vast majority of Stamford’s residential neighborhoods are frozen in amber by a restrictive zoning code that disallows any incremental changes, such as backyard cottages, duplexes, and other “missing middle” forms of housing that could allow for more living spaces. While the voices of existing residents should indeed be considered in land use matters, living in a place first should not give someone a veto over every new person moving in. The vocal protests of a minority of homeowners averse to change are being allowed to outweigh what is good for the whole community.

The housing crisis is the single most important issue facing Stamford’s future. If we cannot get housing costs under control, Stamford will lose its workforce and vibrancy, and become like many high-cost Californian cities with high rates of homelessness and inequality. Stamford needs to choose whether it wants to be an exclusionary “country club” suburb with expensive homes that keeps out the working class and new families by blocking new homes, or a welcoming, growing city that works for all.

The mayor, elected representatives, and city board members must consider the voices of newcomers, immigrants, and new families who would benefit from new homes in Stamford, many of whom are not vocally present when these matters are being discussed. People don’t live forever, the city must change with the times, and we must build more homes for the next generation.

Dice Oh has lived in Stamford for 16 years and has a strong interest in urban design, sustainable transportation, and housing affordability.