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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Zullo

Rep. Zullo Proposes Re-tooling Affordable Housing, Expanding Outdoor Learning in 2021 Agenda

EAST HAVEN — On Monday, East Haven State Rep. Joe Zullo (R, 99) announced his 2021 legislative agenda, which includes proposals to re-tool the State’s affordable housing regulations and expand outdoor learning initiatives for schools in the wake of the pandemic

Zullo explained, “State statutes impose burdensome planning and zoning standards on towns like East Haven which fail to meet the minimum ten-percent affordable housing stock threshold. Developers often exploit this technicality to gain approval for dense, eco-unfriendly projects that are inconsistent with towns’ zoning standards. This proposal will give credit to towns like East Haven that maintain a diverse affordable housing stock. If enacted, the proposal would likely elevate East Haven and other towns above the State’s affordable housing metric, preventing developers from circumventing the town’s local zoning standards and giving towns greater local control over development.”

According to the 2019 "Affordable Housing Appeals List" published by the State's Department of Housing, East Haven currently has 1,007 units which are classified as affordable, equating to 8.03% of the Town's housing stock. Zullo’s proposal, if adopted, will expand the formula by which the State computes the number of “affordable” housing units in a town to include a new metric: properties capable of being purchased by those earning less than 80% of the area median income, regardless of whether the property is deed-restricted.

“The State is fixated on properties needing to be deed-restricted in order to count as ‘affordable,’” added Zullo. “Deed restrictions arbitrarily limit upward mobility by capping sales prices. We need to help first-time homebuyers grow their wealth, not arbitrarily cap it. This proposal not only makes the current framework fairer, but it promotes opportunities for working families and first-time homebuyers to build wealth.”

Zullo’s housing agenda also includes a proposal to allow, but not require, municipalities to offer up to a five-hundred-dollar yearly tax abatement to any homeowner who purchases a single-family home using a 'first-time homebuyer loan' through the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA). The proposal would allow the abatement for up to five years.

According to the State's Department of Housing website, homes financed through CHFA count towards a municipality's affordable housing stock. As of 2019, East Haven had 313 homes purchased with CHFA or U.S. Department of Agriculture loans.

Zullo added, “My first-time homebuyer proposal would incentivize usage of the State’s lending programs, creating new housing opportunities while also helping the town inch closer to meeting the State’s existing affordable housing metric.”

Outdoor Learning Initiatives

In addition to housing initiatives, Zullo’s 2021 agenda includes a proposal to create a pilot grant program to incentivize the creation of outdoor learning spaces by local boards of education, which Zullo cites as both prudent and necessary in the wake of the pandemic.

Zullo explained, “The pandemic has shown us that we need to be adaptable in how we educate our children. We need to continue to focus on building an enriching classroom experience, but we also need to begin looking at how to expand that experience to non-traditional settings like the outdoors. My proposal seeks to establish a matching grant program to allow communities to develop safe, outdoor learning spaces to supplement the existing traditional classroom experience.”

Under Zullo’s proposal, projects would have to satisfy certain grant criteria including “(1) providing appropriate social distancing and/or increasing social distancing to prevent the spread of illness; (2) promoting social and emotional wellbeing of students; (3) promoting applied and/or hands-on learning; and (4) supplementing existing, traditional indoor learning spaces.” Alliance districts, like East Haven and other communities with additional educational needs, would receive more favorable funding opportunities.

Zullo added, “I’ve proposed initiating this as a pilot program within existing appropriations, so as to avoid triggering a fiscal impact. I recognize our State still faces a number of budget constraints, but I see this as an area where the State needs to take action.”

Zullo concluded, “I’m proud of my 2021 legislative agenda, which not only addresses housing and education, but which also includes proposals seeking to study expansion of tax exemptions for veterans who served during peacetime and to give local towns greater latitude to crack down on tax scofflaws. As this new, unorthodox session moves forward, I look forward to working with my colleagues to shepherd these proposals through the committee and legislatives processes.

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