May 2, 2024

Senate Advances Bill to Convert Commercial Spaces into Housing Amid Shortage

A bill designed to address Connecticut’s housing shortage by reducing red tape associated with converting commercial buildings into residential developments passed the Senate Wednesday on a party line vote.

The Senate voted 22-12 in favor of An Act Concerning the Conversion of Commercial Real Property for Residential Use after several hours of debate. The vote sends the bill to the House for consideration in the final week of this year’s legislative session.

Sen. MD Rahman, a Manchester Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee, proposed the bill and led its passage Wednesday. Rahman said the policy would ease the state’s housing shortage and represented good economic policy.

“We all know we have thousands of commercial properties — offices, retails, hotels, motels — closed and unused at this time. We have a housing shortage,” Rahman said. “If this bill passes, we will create more housing. What this bill will do is reduce blighted property, allow… 169 towns to [continue] to collect tax revenue, [and] reduce foreclosures.”

The legislation would boost the availability of homes in Connecticut by allowing developers to convert unused commercial space into housing “as of right.” That means that municipalities would be required to approve the projects if they comply with local building or fire safety codes. This distinction prevents towns from requiring additional obstacles like public hearings or special permits before granting approval.

Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock, spoke at length against the proposal and objected to allowing housing projects on commercial properties to move forward without administrative hurdles like public hearings. Gordon disputed that local zoning policies were obstructing housing developments.

“No one has shown me that zoning is standing in the way of this,” he said.

The bill advanced out of the Planning and Development Committee, where it received a public hearing on March 13. Jim Perras, CEO of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Connecticut, was among those who submitted testimony in favor of the legislation.

“The bill’s provision ensuring that any zoning regulations allow such conversions as of right is a progressive step towards addressing Connecticut’s housing shortage,” Perras said in written testimony. “By removing unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, this legislation empowers property owners to repurpose commercial spaces efficiently, meeting the growing demand for residential units.”

Posted by Hugh McQuaid