Editorial: Housing solutions require leadership

Back • July 20, 2023 • Family Economic Security

We didn’t need a U.S. senator to tell us we have a housing crisis. We can see it every day. Supply is down, prices are up, evictions are climbing and options are limited.

But it doesn’t hurt to have powerful people making the case that our situation is untenable. What’s needed next is workable action to change the status quo.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy recently completed a statewide listening tour of Connecticut communities to hear housing concerns, and he finished in the epicenter of the crisis. Housing is a problem in all corners of the state, but Fairfield County, which has the most expensive real estate along with the majority of economic growth in Connecticut, has an especially significant challenge.

“As a matter of economic development, as a matter of keeping families together, as a matter of just trying to protect people’s survival when they’re doing everything we asked, we need to figure this out,” Murphy said.

It’s a multifaceted challenge. The Senate makes laws for the entire nation, but housing is an intensely local concern, and zoning regulations mean that complaints from a handful of neighbors can stop a development. That means fewer options for people who want to stay in the state, higher prices for everyone and stunted economic growth, all to satisfy a tiny minority who believe they would be hurt by a development. That’s no way to run a state.

Murphy said all the right things at the Fairfield forum, and has shown that he understands the stakes of the issue. But despite his powerful position, it’s not ultimately the job of the U.S. Senate to make the necessary changes. Individual communities can enact new regulations, but, barring that, it’s ultimately up to the state General Assembly to act.

The state has authority over zoning. The local control that so many towns claim to treasure so dearly comes directly from state authority, and the state can update or rescind regulations whenever it gets the will to do so. Real, workable proposals to do just that have been introduced in the legislature in recent sessions, but opponents and their scare tactics have successfully maintained the status quo.

It’s not just about increasing supply. A COVID-era moratorium on evictions, which had worked to keep people in their homes, has expired, leading to a spike in people being removed from their homes. The state passed some renter protections this session, but more is needed, as detailed in a recent report by Connecticut Voices for Children.

The consequences for anyone, especially children, experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity can be severe, and it’s in everyone’s interest to keep people in their homes. That doesn’t mean ignoring rent requirements, but it does mean doing more to help people who need it.

Murphy has a role to play at the federal level, including by solving a problem he highlighted where one negative mark on a person’s record can mean the end of public housing opportunities. But most of the challenge is at the state and local level. Here, he needs to be a leader with his words. Well-timed support for necessary policies could make all the difference.