Long-term population trends don't look good for Connecticut town budgets. Young working adults are moving away, while the population of seniors will continue to grow, resulting in a tax crunch.
At a forum about housing and municipal budgets, House Majority Leader Denise Merrill warned town leaders that the state won't be able to pull them out.
"You need to be developing a local property tax base. I don't think the state's going to be able to help towns as much as we have in the past."
The Partnership for Strong Communities says more affordable, high-density housing will help reverse these trends. The idea is catching on among town leaders. Linda Farmer is the planner in Tolland, a town that got burned by rapid growth in the 1990s. But she says residents got excited about this new effort after brainstorming about the kind of housing needed to maintain a vibrant, multi-generational community.
"Children were considered a bad thing, development, residential development, certainly density was a word we didn't use. And all of a sudden here's been a turnabout, and I've been in Tolland 20 years, and I'm still a little surprised."
Tolland is one of 33 towns that have received state planning grants to design high-density housing zones. So have six towns in Senator Andy Roraback's Litchfield County district. He says they were alarmed by shrinking schools and volunteer fire departments. But he admits there is still lingering discomfort about who will move into any new units.
"People are a little leery of building affordable housing which has to be turned over to people from out of town."
Less than ten percent of housing in most Connecticut towns is considered affordable.