Back to the Future: CT Should Produce and Preserve Small Multifamily Housing

Connecticut by the Numbers

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Small multi-family housing is a staple of Connecticut communities.Partnership for Strong Communities image

The new report argues that modestly-sized apartment buildings are the foundation of Connecticut's affordable rental housing, and that continued building and preservation of these apartments is needed to lower the cost of rent and improve housing choice in the state.

The Partnership for Strong Communities released the report, "Connecticut's Ignored Homes: The Case for Producing and Preserving Small Multifamily Housing," which indicates that there are 336,741 housing units in small multifamily buildings with 2–9 units in Connecticut. There could – and should - be many more, which would go a long way towards alleviating Connecticut’s affordable housing shortfall, the report explains.

This small multifamily housing supply, also referred to as “missing middle,” is the predominate form of multifamily housing in many towns, according to the report. In 151 of the state’s169 municipalities, small multifamily or “SMF” makes up more than half the town’s multifamily housing supply – and in 20 of these municipalities, small multifamily buildings are the only multifamily housing in town, the report points out.

While Connecticut has engaged in a long-overdue conversation about the need for zoning reform in the state, this report, authored by the Partnership's Policy Director Sean Ghio, shows that diverse housing options have social and economic benefits for Connecticut communities.

"Connecticut has one of the highest housing costs in the nation, as well as a shortage of homes that the state's lower-income residents can afford," notes Ghio. "Research has shown that these small multifamily buildings are usually the most affordable rental options in a given community. We should be building more homes like these - the problem is, we're not."

Connecticut has produced very little small multifamily housing in recent decades due to restrictive zoning codes and the prevalence of multi-family housing bans, according to the report. An analysis by the advocacy group Desegregate CT shows that just 2% of Connecticut's land is zoned to allow new homes of up to four units. Just 4.9% of Connecticut's 2-4 unit homes were built in the last 20 years.

“Small multifamily buildings, and the families that call them home, deserve greater attention from Connecticut policymakers,” the 18-page report states.

The Partnership's analysis also finds that a disproportionate percentage of Black and Hispanic households live in small multifamily buildings, both as owners and renters. The report concludes that "the age, location, and price point of much of the small multifamily housing supply in Connecticut provide a more affordable means for lower income homebuyers to build home equity."

The report urges “Improving housing quality, preserving, or creating lower cost housing options in communities that do not have much housing diversity now, and opening opportunities for homeownership and small scale investing to communities of color that have been denied access in the past.”

It also references a study from the Connecticut Data Collaborative examining the connection between housing and health which “found a strong connection between both housing quality and housing stability measures and health outcomes. Neighborhoods with the most stable housing had better health measures than areas with the least stable housing on nearly all health measures included in the study.”

The report concludes with a number of possible policy changes to facilitate the production and preservation of small multifamily housing, as well as a "Framework for Change" designed to help policymakers establish future housing policy. Among the proposals: find new ways to incentivize SMF homeownership as a way to stabilize neighborhoods and build local wealth; expand or refine existing successful programs and resources that target SMF buildings; and consolidate and coordinate existing programs that target the unique realities of Connecticut’s existing SMF supply.

Partnership for Strong Communities is a statewide nonprofit policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut.

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