Wilton officials respond to Lamont affordable housing plan

Gov. Ned Lamont is ready to wield a big stick to punish the state’s wealthier suburbs that push back on construction of affordable housing.

According to an article published by The Connecticut Mirror, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, he is ready to withhold state spending for transportation upgrades to towns that resist approving affordable housing proposals.

“If you want some funding for that transportation hub, I want affordable housing to be a big part of that,” the governor said during an interview last week for CT Mirror’s “Steady Habits” podcast. Previously, the governor said he favored local control of this issue.

Among the towns he singled out in the podcast were Simsbury and his own hometown of Greenwich as well as others in Fairfield County.

Among those supporting Lamont was Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney of New Haven who said, “Communities should not be able to rely upon local zoning and local practices to the extent that they are right now to bar the development of affordable housing in their community. It’s an issue where the needs of the state take precedence over the needs or wishes of individual towns.”

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) described the comments as “the heavy hand of government.”

Of his seeming about-face on the issue she said, “Nothing is ever clear and it changes every time you turn around.

“He definitively said, ‘I’ve learned my lesson’” with school regionalization. “It’s like watching a two-year-old throw a tantrum. ‘If you’re not going to give me what I want …’”

She said because the governor’s comments are so unclear about what is meant by transportation spending she could not say how such a policy would affect Wilton.

“Just imagine you have a train platform and its defective, are you going to tie repairing that to affordable housing? I hope not,” she said.

In a similar vein, she questioned what if the tracks in one town need repair, how would that affect other towns down the line? “It makes no sense,” she said.

She said she feels town decisions on affordable housing are unfairly being linked to racism.

“The people in Wilton certainly are not racist,” she said. “There’s an awful lot being blamed on small towns.”

“There’s only so much a developer is willing to do and a town is willing to do” depending on how it is built out,” she said, adding, “I’m not in favor of this.”

“It shows a great lack of political steadfastness,” she said of Lamont’s defection from leaving affordable housing decisions up to the towns. “It’s a really important thing to watch.”

Just last week, Wilton received its first affordable housing application, submitted under the state’s 8-30g regulation, at the Planning and Zoning Department.

When asked about the governor’s remarks, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice had this to say.

“Gov. Lamont and Senate President Looney expressed their frustration with suburban communities that seek to use their zoning regulations to exclude affordable housing. Wilton is one of the few suburban towns that was ahead of the curve and has required affordable housing units within our zoning regulations for more than 20 years. It is a key reason why our percentage of affordable housing units exceeds our suburban neighbors.

“There is universal agreement that investment in transportation is critical for the state to retain and attract businesses. I'll wait to see the details to get a sense as to whether withholding transportation funding to solve another problem will have the unintended consequence of slowing down economic growth.

“I am very concerned about Senator Looney’s quote, ‘It’s an issue where the needs of the state need to take precedence over the needs — or the wishes — of the individual towns,’ as it was this same attitude that gave rise to his proposal last year to force the regionalization of schools. If we are going to solve our joint problems, the state legislature and municipalities have to work with each other, not against each other.”

A spokesman for state Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) said he declined to comment at this time. “He is waiting to see what the specific proposals will involve,” the spokesman said.