Connecticut’s state Housing Committee advanced a bill that would establish a right to housing for every resident in the state.
S.B. No. 194 defines the right to housing to include, but is not limited to:
- Protection from housing loss
- Access to safe housing
- Access to affordable housing
- Adequate rehousing assistance
- Recognition of special circumstances that often prevent people from finding stable housing
If passed, the bill would become effective on October 1, 2021.
Danya Keene, associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, testified in support of the bill. She described the bill as a boon for the state’s public health goals as national COVID-19 vaccination efforts increase.
“Affordable and stable housing are out of reach for many Connecticut residents, and this crisis is not only a human rights issue, but it is also a public health issue. A large body of research—including my own—demonstrates the tremendous public health costs of unmet housing needs,” she said.
In 2018, Keene and two colleagues from Yale published a study showing the negative impacts housing instability has on self-managing chronic illnesses such as Type 2 Diabetes. Specifically, lack of housing access affected participants’ ability to prioritize their diabetes care, establish healthy routines, and afford medications.
As COVID-19 spread across the country last spring, researchers quickly noted how the disease affected individuals suffering from chronic illnesses more severely than others. Keene argued that crowded dwellings and housing stability also contributed to the disease’s spread.
Keene also applauded a similar bill meandering through Connecticut’s General Assembly, H.B. No. 6531, which would guarantee the right to legal counsel for people facing eviction in Connecticut. She said the efforts combined will help stave off future public health impacts from COVID-19.
“We really can’t be prepared for the next pandemic without addressing these unmet housing needs,” she added.
Grace Furia, an 18-year-old ambassador of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) be homeful program, also testified in support of SB-194. She said the bill is about more than providing Connecticut’s most vulnerable with stability during a time of great uncertainty.
According to the latest Point in Time Count, there are 2,904 people experiencing homelessness in Connecticut. On top of that, another 124,000 renters pay more than half of their monthly income in rent. Furia said the bill protects these renters as much as it protects those sleeping rough.
“We need to picture all of these people trying to find a warm place to sleep, a place where they won’t contract COVID-19, and a place they won’t endanger their lives. The only place I can think of is a home, that is what we are trying to accomplish by passing this bill,” Furia said.
Increasing Housing Access across the Country
Lawmakers in the Connecticut General Assembly are not alone in their fight to increase housing access.
In New York, the state Senate advanced a legislative package to combat housing discrimination, which includes:
- Requiring the state Attorney General to conduct annual fair housing access audits
- Requiring real estate brokers to go through implicit bias training
- Allowing plaintiffs to seek compensatory damages under successful fair housing discrimination claims
The package stems from a 2019 Newsday exposé that found rampant fair housing violations in Long Island’s real estate market. In January 2021, the New York Senate released an investigation into the allegations and recommended updating several policies.
“There is no place in New York for housing discrimination and predatory practices,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “Buying a new home should be a special achievement in a person’s life without the risk of becoming a victim of abhorrent discrimination.”
California state assemblyman Alex Lee introduced legislation known as AB 387, or the Social Housing Act of 2021, in February.
The bill would essentially allow California to enter the private development market to ensure affordable housing is built for people of all income levels.
According to the bill’s text, the legislature would establish the California Housing Authority to develop “mixed-income rental and limited equity homeownership housing and mixed-use developments to address the shortage of affordable homes for low and moderate-income households.”
“There have been similar bills in certain regards to this issue in the past, but nothing like this on this scale,” Lee told San Jose Inside. “I do not believe there has been a social housing effort in California before. That’s what we’re aspiring to be.”
Meanwhile, Utah’s state legislature recently approved $50 million in funding for affordable housing initiatives.
According to The Desert News, most of the funds will be spent on preserving affordable units rather than allowing developers to “rehab” them and relist for market-value rents.
A bill circulating Utah’s statehouse—SB164—would require the state to conduct an annual “surplus property inventory” to identify potential sites for affordable housing.
Republican Sen. Jake Anderegg told the Senate that the bill is meant to address a gap in affordable housing for people earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median income.
“But with our superheated market right now and the problems with finding housing, if all the analyses are correct and we really are anywhere near 45,000 units short of demand versus what supply is, the people getting pushed out, quite literally, those are the people that are 50% of area median income and below,” he told The Desert News.