Opinion: Reform Stamford’s anti-household coalition

The Stamford Reform Coalition, led by House Majority Leader Rep. Nina Sherwood, is trying to consolidate authority over the city’s appointed zoning and planning boards through the 2023 charter review process. The Reform Coalition’s main motivation was the feeling that we built too much housing Even though we live in the midst of a severe housing shortage. The Reform Alliance’s primary goal is to create fear and division between existing residents and newcomers to consolidate power and build a wall of exclusion around the city through its zoning laws.

This point was made in refreshingly frank terms by City Rep. Sean Boeger, who said at a recent meeting about the city’s Market Rate (BMR) program that he doesn’t think his constituents want new housing and that he’s not interested in people who want to live here but don’t currently. in the city. Rep. Boeger’s comments strike at the heart of the matter: reform is about exclusion.

This point is reinforced by the unholy alliance between Rep. Sherwood (nominally a Democrat) and the staunchly conservative Stamford Neighborhood Coalition. The Syrian National Council was established specifically to prevent housing construction. It was also founded and run by failed Republican mayoral candidate Barry Michelson, an odd partner to the Democratic majority leader. Over the past few years, the SNC, with the help of Rep. Sherwood and her allies, has fought to close homes in vacant office buildings, on unused government property, through attached housing units, and for senior citizens.

Reform carries a zero-sum worldview and sees direct conflict between newcomers to the city and existing residents. However, it is precisely the political choices of the Reform Alliance that drive this conflict. One of the main points of conflict is over the scarcity of housing in the city, a scarcity that reform wrongly seeks to maintain and exacerbate by preventing new housing construction.

Places that build new homes always have cheaper housing prices than places that don’t. For example, New Rochelle has successfully limited rent growth by relaxing burdensome zoning rules and building more mostly market-rate housing. Not only does new housing keep housing prices low, it also attracts new neighbors, allows a wider range of businesses and leisure activities to be supported, provides a dynamic economy, and allows more social services to be provided through a broader tax base. The solution is painfully obvious. We must build abundant housing so everyone can share in the opportunities the city provides.

There is no scheme that would keep newcomers out of the city and not cause significant harm to existing residents. The misguided attempt to form a historic district in the South End, given the overwhelming outright rejection by the current homeowners of the potential district, is a perfect example of this. Current residents correctly realize that the architectural restrictions imposed by the area would hurt their property values, remove the right to modify their property as they see fit, and prevent the residential growth necessary to prevent displacement.

Interestingly, after the current landowners’ pushback, reform allies in the House of Representatives insisted, baselessly, that a developer-led campaign was to blame for this negativity. This is common among reformists: if someone disagrees with them, they are sure to get money from greedy developers. Reformists cannot understand that anyone can disagree with them based on genuine concerns about their well-being or society.

By preventing the construction of new housing (for a wide range of ever-changing reasons), the Reform Alliance has put the city on a path toward greater displacement of existing residents, higher housing costs, higher taxes, and more homelessness. Additionally, while traffic is often cited as a major concern, traffic is likely to become worse as people are forced to live farther from their workplaces, families or social communities.

As a city we are faced with a choice. We can sabotage our own prosperity and seek to prevent newcomers from becoming our friends and neighbors. Or we can choose a different path. The path of wholeness and abundance. We can build more housing. We can build a city for everyone.

The Reform Alliance is currently trying to accelerate its destructive and exclusionary vision by usurping power from the mayor’s office and consolidating its control over planning and zoning boards. With reform candidates in control, development will halt, and the housing shortage will worsen. What tiny housing will be built will be the result of long and expensive lawsuits, similar to the ones the city’s reform coalition has already done wrong. Ironically, the barriers to new housing construction that Stamford Reform is seeking will actually favor large developers, because they are the only ones who can afford the inevitable legal battles that would be necessary to build anything.

Rep. Sherwood and her allies cynically rushed to vote charter revision on the 2023 ballot to prevent careful deliberation and education of the public. Islah’s calculations are that low turnout and public apathy will allow them to proceed with the process of seizing power. It is important that everyone participate on November 7 and reject in no uncertain terms the question of charter review and Stamford’s exclusionary vision.

Zach Oberholzer is a research scientist and Stamford resident concerned about the housing crisis.

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