Donor Briefing: Land Use, Segregation and the Affordable Housing Crisis

Greater New Haven and Connecticut are at the center of a zoning reform movement that is attempting to make housing more affordable and break open barriers to economic opportunity.

Recap and Recording

On Wednesday, May 12, three leading housing reform activists discussed the relationship between zoning, segregation and high housing costs. The panelists reviewed how Connecticut came to have one of the most restrictive housing markets in the country and highlighted promising policies that would increase the affordable supply and open barriers to economic opportunity.

Moderated by:
Anika Singh Lemar, Clinical Professor of Law, Yale Law School.

With Panelists:
Erin Boggs, Executive Director, Open Communities Alliance (OCA).
Sara Bronin, Professor of Law, UConn Law School and leader of Desegregate CT.

What We Heard

Connecticut has among the most restrictive housing markets in the country

  • Local zoning practices overwhelmingly favor single-family home construction on large lots.
  • Four-family housing is allowed in only 2.3% of the state.
  • The state is last in the country in the construction of new housing.

Exclusionary zoning is driving high costs and perpetuating segregated housing patterns

  • The limited multi-family housing supply puts renters at a severe disadvantage.
  • A family earning minimum wage must work 96 hours a week to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment.
  • Housing cost burden affects middle-class homeowners as well as renters.
  • Black and Latino residents are overwhelmingly concentrated in areas with limited opportunity.
  • Affordable units are limited or not available in towns and neighborhoods with the most opportunities for high levels of education, health and wellbeing.

Connecticut is ready for change

  • Momentum is building as awareness spreads.
  • Affordable housing has the attention of legislators and the public.

What We Can Do

Give thoughtfully- Consider the potential detrimental costs to open space preservation purchases. The panelists noted that some open space purchases have been made to block unwanted housing, not to preserve land recognized for its natural qualities. The panelists also noted that open space purchases can have the unintended consequence of driving up the price of land values to make housing further out of reach for many people.

Embrace housing diversity - Support efforts to increase mixed-income and multi-family alternatives to large-lot single family housing.

Make your voice heard - Housing bills are pending before the general assembly. Learn more from the resources below and connect with your legislative representatives.

Resources for You

Policy efforts

HB 6611: Fair Share Zoning. Sponsored by Open Communities Alliance, Fair Share Zoning is modeled on an approach used in New Jersey that has led to the creation of more than 100,000 affordable units.

SB 1024 Zoning Reform
, sponsored by Desegregate CT, would expand housing diversity and supply.

Data-mapping research

Opportunity Data Portal
: Tools for visualizing the dynamics of place, race and policy.

Connecticut Zoning Atlas: An interactive map showing how all 2,620 zoning districts and 2 subdivision districts in Connecticut treat housing.

About the Moderator

Anika Singh-Lemar teaches the Community and Economic Development clinic (CED), with clients including affordable housing developers, community development financial institutions, farms and farmer’s markets, fair housing advocates, and neighborhood associations. From 2007 to 2013, she represented for-profit, not-for-profit and governmental clients engaged in a variety of real estate projects including building affordable housing, remediating and redeveloping brownfields, and revitalizing urban neighborhoods.


Erin Boggs, Executive Director of Open Communities Alliance, has worked on issues of equity, particularly in the context of housing, for almost 20 years. After dedicating six years to a range of fair housing issues, such as the foreclosure crisis, the housing challenges faced by people with disabilities, and housing discrimination based on a range of characteristics such as the presence of children, the use of government housing subsidies, and race and ethnicity, Ms. Boggs recognized the need for an organization specifically focused on the intersection of inequality and geography.

Sara Bronin is a Mexican-American architect, attorney, professor, and policymaker who works to create and preserve great places. She holds an endowed chair at UConn Law School, and leads the advocacy coalition, Desegregate Connecticut, a coalition that supports "creating abundant, diverse housing in service of equity, inclusive prosperity, and a cleaner environment."

Donor Briefing Series
The Community Foundation's ongoing Donor Briefing series invites guest experts to discuss urgent issues affecting us locally and nationally and to inform us about what can be done. Contact us to learn more.