Lamont wants to address Connecticut’s ‘affordable housing crisis’

Scott Benjamin

NEW HAVEN – Democratic gubernatorial convention nominee Ned Lamont says Connecticut has “an affordable housing crisis in a high-cost state,” and, if elected, he “would focus” on putting more units in the cities near where public transportation would be available.

The Greenwich resident said that even though departing Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-Stamford) and the General Assembly have made significant progress over the recent years, “There is an incredible shortage” of affordable housing across the state.

The addition of affordable housing is a contentious issue in some suburban and rural towns.

For example, Brookfield Democratic First Selectman Steve Dunn and Republican Selectman Harry Shaker, who opposed each other in the race for the town’s top municipal office last year, both have said it was the most-discussed topic among voters during the campaign.

Shaker said he adamantly opposed any more affordable housing because of potential negative impact on property values and Dunn noted that the town had qualified for a four-year moratorium on applications and that affordable housing should be restricted in Brookfield to the Federal Road corridor and the Town Center of Brookfield near the Four Corners. He also expressed concern about how affordable housing could reduce property values in other town neighborhoods.

Lamont, who faces Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim in the August 14 primary, said with the recent opening of the Hartford rail line, which has increased service to New Haven and to Springfield, Mass., and other mass transit initiatives he would attempt to turn Connecticut’s cities into “major transportation hubs.”

He said with affordable housing built near those hubs, there would be greater opportunity for residents to commute to higher-paying jobs.

University of California economist Enrico Moretti wrote in The New York Times last year that, for example, the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles bullet train would make it possible for people living in California’s Central Valley to seek positions at firms in the Silicon Valley innovation hub.

Lamont said in an interview that he wants to improve upon the progress that Malloy has made in adding more affordable housing since he took office in 2011.

CT Hearst reported last November that the Hartford-based Partnership for Strong Communities had stated that Connecticut had made “remarkable progress” over the recent years. In particular, the organization reported that there had been a “62 percent” decline in homelessness over the previous three years.

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) has told CT Hearst that the increase in affordable housing has been “an economic driver” for the state and Middletown Democratic Mayor Dan Drew has praised Malloy for reducing homelessness across the Nutmeg State.

“But we have a long ways to go with affordable housing,” U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4) of Greenwich said recently.

“This is a high-cost area,” said the congressman, who was an affordable housing executive for six years before going to Washington. “It’s not just low income people, its middle income people living in the area. If you’re a teacher in Greenwich, it’s hard to live in the town that you teach in.”

Regarding economic development, Lamont said he is “not a big fan” of Malloy’s First Five/Next Five initiative in which such companies as ESPN in Bristol, the Bridgewater Associates hedge fund in Westport and Cartus, a corporate relocation company in Danbury, have received state financial incentives based on their ability to increase their work force over the coming years.

“I don’t want politics involved in picking winners and losers,” he said. “Taxpayers are taking on a lot of the risk that investors should be doing.”

However, critics have noted that Lamont has taken partial credit for notifying state officials about the interest of Infosys, a technology consulting company, in creating a 1000-worker innovation hub by 2022. Malloy has announced that the company will receive incentives from the First Five/Next Five program.

Lamont, who operated a digital television service for many years, said last week that he was hopeful that Infosys would also establish operations in Bridgeport and Stamford.

Connecticut has had a history of providing financial incentives. The New York Times has reported, for example, that former Gov. Lowell Weicker (ACP-Essex) and the General Assembly approved $165 million in 1994 to attract UBS to Stamford. Within about a decade The City That Works ranked fourth in the world in financial services.

It was reported that Massachusetts provided $135 million in incentives to get General Electric to move from Fairfield.

Lamont said that the state’s $292 million investment in 2011 to bring Jackson Labs from Maine to near the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington is one that “I think is going to work in the future.”

However, he said it might have been better to lure Jackson Labs to New Haven “which is more a part of the life sciences ecosystem.”

Attorney Monte Frank of Newtown, who is running for lieutenant governor on the third-party ticket headed by former Metro Hartford Alliance Executive Director Oz Griebel of Simsbury, has said many companies in the state have hired Jackson Labs to do research since the company opened in Connecticut in 2014.

In March the state Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Competitiveness reported that the pensions for the state employees were only 29 percent funded.

To address that, Lamont said as governor he would continue to fund the pensions adequately each year as Malloy has done since 2011, the governor’s first year in office. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo (D-Guilford) has said Malloy is the first governor to do that since former Gov. Lowell Weicker (A Connecticut Party-Essex) left office in early 1995.

Lamont, who has been endorsed by such key Democratic primary constituencies as the American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the Working Families Party, said, “We’re going to sit down and work out a long-term solution to the pension crisis” with the state employee collective bargaining units.

“I differ from the Republican candidates that say, ‘I’m going to tear up the contract. Take me to court, I don’t care,’ ” he said.

A year ago this month, the General Assembly ratified a package that required the state employees to contribute more to their pensions and established a hybrid package for new hires. State labor leaders have said the plan would save the state $24 billion over 20 years.

The new contract included no layoffs for four years and the benefit package was extended from 2022 to 2027.

Malloy has said that he has reduced the full-time work force by 13.1 percent since 2011.

Would Lamont continue those efforts?

“I’m not interested in layoffs,” he said.

“I’ve got to do a forensic analysis of each of these different departments and make sure that I’m taking care of the kids and that I’m taking care of the environment,” added Lamont regarding where savings might be found through attrition.

Lamont lost to Malloy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination during a primary in 2010.

He said he supports a proposal from the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Competitiveness to use the annual proceeds from the quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corporation to help fund the teachers’ pensions. The commission stated that those obligations were only 56 percent funded.

The state has paid for the teachers’ pensions since 1939.

Malloy proposed last year that the municipalities take on one-third of the costs since they are supposed to soar in costs over the next 10 to 15 years.

“That didn’t make any sense to me,” Lamont said. “You don’t give our communities a bigger obligation after you already have reduced state aid.”

On another topic, Lamont has expressed reservations for months about the state Board of Regents Students First plan, which initially was designed to place the administrative functions of the 12 state community colleges in the central office. That was proposed to save $28 billion for a cash-strapped system that has been losing enrollment.

“When you do that [put administrative functions in the central office] you lose a lot of the local context,” said Lamont, who has been teaching part-time over the recent years at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in New Britain.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges rejected the initial plan this spring.

Lamont said he has fewer reservations about the revised proposal by the Board of Regents to gradually phase-in a plan in which there would be regional governance for some of the administrative functions.

“I think more or less he has the right balance, but I’m not sure,” he said of that proposal, which was made by Mark Ojakian, the president of the Board of Regents and Malloy’s former chief of staff.

“I salute him for every effort for shared services in the effort to bring down costs,” Lamont said of Ojakian. The faculty at CCSU approved a resolution this spring calling for Ojakian’s resignation, apparently because of the Student First plan.

When asked if Malloy and the General Assembly made the best decision in 2011 in establishing the Board of Regents, which encompasses the four former members of the Connecticut State University system, the 12 community colleges and the Charter Oak online division, the candidate said, “I think so. I don’t have a strong feeling on that.”

“But I think it’s better to have a more comprehensive system,” Lamont said. “I think it’s better to look at things more strategically.”

Former CCSU President Richard Judd and two colleagues wrote in The Hartford Courant this spring that the Board of Regents should be abolished and the state should restore the former system where the four state universities are governed by their own Board of Trustees.

The first president of the Board of Regents, Robert Kennedy, resigned in 2012 following criticism for granting several salary increases for top administrators without getting board approval. His successor, Gregory Gray, formulated an ambitious Transform CSCU 2020 plan that would have increased online learning and attempted to allow more students to go from a community college for two years and then attend one of the board’s four-year schools seamlessly for the final two years of their education.

Several faculty groups approved resolutions of no confidence in Gray and he resigned in 2015.

Lamont said he agreed with Mary Glassman of Simsbury, the Democratic-convention endorsed candidate in the primary in the Fifth Congressional District and his running mate for lieutenant governor in the 2010 state primary, that the next great recession will result from college student loan debt.

He said the state should employ “creative” solutions, such as if you earn a teaching certificate at one of the four-year state public universities and teach at Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport for five years “we’ll retire your student loans.” Lamont formerly taught part-time at Harding.

Lamont said in addition to creating more jobs in the only New England state that hasn’t recovered all of the positons lost during the 2008 recession, Connecticut needs to fill the jobs that are currently vacant.

“We have an incredible opportunity at our community colleges, because there are jobs available for their graduates,” he said, noting that there are thousands of jobs in the state that are vacant because qualified applicants aren’t available. “However, we have 8,000 fewer students graduating from those colleges than we did eight years ago.”

Lamont said the state should put more of an emphasis on “training people for the jobs of the 21st century” and endorsed making more robotics training available to middle school students.

During his bid in 2006 for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, Lamont made his income tax returns public.

When asked if he would be doing that in the current gubernatorial primary, he said, “I think I’ll do what everybody else does.”

None of the candidates have made their income tax returns public.

Lamont captured the 2006 Democratic U.S. Senate primary but lost to incumbent Joe Lieberman, who ran as a third-party candidate, in a three-way race in the general election.

The primary generated national attention and Weicker, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) were at Lamont’s primary night headquarters.

This year’s Republican gubernatorial primary has five contenders: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who won the convention endorsement on the third ballot; former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst; former Greenwich hedge funds manager David Stemerman, former UBS and GE executive Bob Stefanowski of Madison and tech businessman Steve Obsitnik of Westport.

Griebel has submitted signatures to get on the ballot as a third-party candidate.

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