Courpas: Credit Where Credit Is Due

Submitted by Tina Courpas

I believe that the majority of Greenwich citizens agree that local zoning decisions should be made at the local level.  Local decision makers have the most information and the most at stake. I also believe that most Greenwich citizens agree that it benefits all of us to live in a Greenwich where neighbors of diverse income levels can live, work, and raise their families.

So why is Greenwich categorized as an affordable housing villain?   Part of the problem is that  8-30g, the portion of the Connecticut statute that mandates affordable housing by town, attempts to be a one-size-fits-all law.  But, it doesn’t fit all, or even most.  Greenwich, and all towns, get credit for a portion of the housing that is affordable.  Until the Town obtains a moratorium, or even better – the General Assembly overhauls 8-30g, why don’t we at least amend the statute in a way that levels the playing field and recognizes the true affordable housing stock in Town.

8-30g requires 10% affordable housing.  As applied, Greenwich’s ratio is currently 5.7%. (1)  8-30g mandates that 10% of the housing stock of every town in the state must be “Affordable Housing.”  If a town falls below the threshold, local developers are permitted to create housing stock which meets certain requirements, but is exempt from local zoning laws.  At 5.7%, Greenwich is about average for Connecticut’s 169 municipalities (ranking 64th among the 169).  Notably, our ratio is still higher than many towns: Darien: 4.2%; New Canaan:  2.7%; Westport: 3.8%. Fairfield: 2.9%. (1)

8-30g includes four categories of affordable housing.  For Greenwich, two of those are significantly unworkable as defined. One type of housing included in 8-30g is ownership financed by Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) or US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) loans. An individual’s decision to avail themselves of the CHFA is not something that the municipality can control. USDA loans are exclusively for farmland, and but for 11 units of housing, irrelevant for Greenwich.  Yet we are compared in an apples to oranges fashion with other towns on this basis. (1)  The other problematic category is deed-restricted housing, a part of the law with significant unintended consequences.  Currently, if developers build a deed-restricted property, 30% of the units are required to be affordable.  The remaining 70% may be rented at market value, providing a considerable incentive to over-develop.  With every 100 new units built in Greenwich, we only gain 30 affordable units, but an additional 70 more have been added (exempt from local zoning laws). This adds considerably to the Town’s housing density, without much of an increase to our “ratio.” (2)

8-30g excludes certain categories of housing stock that we do have.  Notably excluded from the statute’s definition of affordable housing is naturally occurring housing.  In Greenwich,  such housing is provided by Greenwich Hospital,  country clubs, and private schools (2)   This housing is offered at low cost or no cost, attracts workers to Town by making their housing affordable, and creates a more diverse Greenwich.  To the extent this housing meets the income threshold, why isn’t it included?  Nobody is prohibited from applying for jobs which include this employee benefit. Further excluded are Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).  Colloquially known as “in-law suites,”these separate dwelling units often provide affordable housing for seniors, young adults or others, but are excluded from the statute’s calculation.  In 2023, Republicans sponsored legislation to include these types of housing in Greenwich’s 10%. (3)  These efforts should continue in 2024.

There is always room for improvement of our affordable housing, and we must continue to improve it.   However, 8-30g is a problematic law, as applied, and should be overhauled. But, until then, let’s get a proper accounting of all that we have done right as a Town and at least give credit where credit is due.  This will bring us closer to the 10% level currently required, shrink the problem, and pave the way for more reasonable legislation on this important issue.

Sources cited in this article.




Tina Courpas is an attorney, mother of four, and citizen of the 149th District in Greenwich.