NAHB members have actively been advocating for better solutions toward housing affordability, whether it’s removing regulatory barriers to increase housing supply or recruiting new workers to the profession. As NAHBNow recently highlighted, a number are actively involved in local endeavors — such as state or local task forces and commissions — to bring the home-building perspective to discussions surrounding how communities can tackle this important issue.
Connecticut is just one state actively involved in this process. As part of Public Act 21-29, it established the Commission on Connecticut's Development and Future to "evaluate policies related to land use, conservation, housing affordability and infrastructure." Among those on the commission is Greg Ugalde, NAHB's 2019 chairman and President/CLO at T & M Building Co. Inc.
To help others around the Federation get more involved in these discussions, Ugalde provided his insights on his work on the commission and what members can do to become more active.
Q: What is the purpose of the Commission on Connecticut's Development and Future?
Ugalde: Our state, like so many around the country, is really facing affordable housing issues — or, as we like to call it in a broader sense, housing affordability.
The legislature has been working with the Department of Housing to come up with different ways to try to make our state more affordable, and came up with a few things to include as part of Public Act 21-29. And they also realized we need to talk about this issue in greater depth to encourage affordable housing, as well as address housing affordability issues, and explore these in our state. So they set up a commission, which was a big part of this bill.
Besides myself as a commission member, we have a very active land-use lawyer that works with our organizations. And then two or three other affiliates were appointed to the working groups that were set up as part of the commission. So we are in a good position to inform this discussion.
Q: What are some of the challenges the commission will have to tackle?
Ugalde: We have to evaluate the policies related to land use, conservation, housing affordability and infrastructure. Infrastructure is such a huge component — the cost of building and setup, for everything from apartment units to single-family homes. Anytime you need infrastructure, you're bringing in water, sewer and other utilities. And if you have only one set of requirements, it can lead to overbuilding infrastructure, which adds to costs.
This also fits in with the legislature’s other interest to create educational opportunities for all the commissions around the state. Because as we see in so many places, when developers go in to try to get their approvals, they're talking to people that really don't understand the importance of what's trying to be done or it's just above and beyond what their volunteer positions have them qualified for. So we’re spending time trying to put together meaningful educational resources in to bring the commissions along that way.
Q: How does your work on the commission compare to other housing affordability efforts you've seen in your role in NAHB leadership?
Ugalde: During my year as chairman, housing affordability was my focus. That mantra has continued, and we can't stop our efforts. Everything from the increase in interest rates to codes and resiliency, energy efficiency — we have a firehose of pressures that affect the cost of homes. As builders, developers and remodelers, there are a lot of things that we have to consider environmentally as well as structurally. We have to be at the cutting edge and push forth the best product we can offer, but we are the voice of balance and reason when it comes to the price of housing.
All sorts of home owners — young families, first responders, teachers — simply can't afford to live in the communities where they work. When NAHB’s Economics team releases its studies showing how many households are priced out by an incremental change in housing costs, you see the damage the lack of housing affordability is doing to our communities.
Q: How can other members become more involved in the types of efforts that you described?
Ugalde: You can break it down into three areas.
The first one is that you can identify through your state and local home builders associations, the public associations, organizations and other entities that are concerned in working on these issues in your community. Research them, attend a couple meetings and get involved that way.
It also helps identify the areas that we can step in and provide housing. When you see the weaknesses that your towns and states have identified as problems and struggles, and they are unable to address housing affordability on a lot of fronts such as codes, interest rates, materials, etc., you have a great opportunity.
The second one is that you can work with your legislature to find out where the hot buttons are. Start with your towns, your localities and your state legislature, and look to see what their current and future efforts are to address housing affordability. Then get creative with your local and state home builders associations, and find where you can jump in and have the biggest impact.
That's how this effort started in Connecticut — like minds getting together and realizing that we have some serious problems in one of the wealthiest states in the country. It’s difficult for many to tackle, but we have to do it.
The third one is to get models from other parts of the country, which is what I’m working to develop as part of my work on the commission. When you learn more about your local situation, you can tie in other successful programs and modify them to be able to address your housing affordability concerns.
So in the end, they're all very related efforts. But what we try to do as a Federation is to help each other figure it out, and give back to our states and municipalities.
Q: What types of solutions are likely to come from — or do you hope to see come from — these types of efforts?
Ugalde: When you look at Connecticut, the issue is that we have a small geographic state comparably, but we have so many different types of towns. They don't want neighboring towns to tell them that they can't provide the housing exactly the way they want to. So they'll have zoning that requires 2,000 acres for a single-family house. They'll require things that add astronomically to the cost of land and to the cost of a home at the end.
If you talk to the legislators, when they make these policies and take stances on it, they’re saying, “This is what my constituents are telling me.” But when you talk to them, they also say, “We want our kids to come back and buy a home in our area.”
That’s what’s going to happen in every community around the country. Everybody tries to, in effect, say that they’re encouraging people to come to their community and take advantage of all their resources. But they’re counterproductive if you think about the other concepts they’re issuing and approving. A lot of people simply don’t understand the cost of some of these things that they're talking about. They just look at it as, "We don't really need that stuff in my backyard."
I really think — when you look at our state and local associations — we are in a great position to be able to be active. We just have to make sure all of our members talk to our legislative positions at every level. We have to make sure people vote our issues.
At first glance, there are some organizations that might appear to be against our interests. But when you look past some of the buzzwords and the barrel banging, everybody's saying the same thing — that safe, affordable housing in all our communities has to be something that we strive for and work to control.