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CT bill advances that would allow homeless housing on property of religious institutions

A bill allowing religious institutions in Connecticut to provide homeless residents with shelter advances to the General Assembly for a vote.
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A bill allowing religious institutions in Connecticut to provide homeless residents with shelter advances to the General Assembly for a vote.

A proposed bill allowing religious institutions in Connecticut to provide temporary housing for homeless residents on their properties is taking a step forward in the state legislature.

Connecticut’s Planning and Development Committee approved the proposed bill Friday which now advances to the General Assembly for a vote.

The bill limits the number of communities that are authorized to provide housing.

The first proposal would’ve permitted religious groups in about 76 municipalities to establish temporary shelters on their grounds, with the modification it will apply to about 45 communities.

The change to the bill’s wording was brought about by Republican Rep. Doug Dubitsky, one of the proposal’s opponents.

Dubitsky initially requested having the bill only apply to municipalities with 70,000 or more residents. When that proposal failed, he countered with a more modest increase to 25,000 residents.

There are about 1,000 Connecticut residents sleeping outdoors, according to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

In Fairfield County one-third of homeless residents are elderly and another third are children, Democratic State Rep. David Michel, who represents Stamford, said.

“I think it’s urgent that we do all we can to expand the options for homeless people and families to have shelter and have safety at night and warmth during the winter,” Michel said.

The bill would grant religious institutions the ability to establish no more than eight dwellings, of no more than 400 square feet, on their property for homeless residents.

Under the bill, The structures would still abide by health, safety and building codes, and would not be permitted within 1,000 feet of a school, according to the bill.

Shelter residents can not live in the temporary shelters for more than 12 consecutive months. Only one family or two unrelated individuals would be allowed to live in the same shelter.

Republican state lawmakers are concerned about the level of power the bill would grant religious institutions.

It would grant religious institutions “as of right” abilities. For example, they wouldn’t be required to undergo a public hearing or get a special permit as other groups might.

Republican Rep. Joe Zullo, who represents East Haven, voted against the bill but did not propose an alternative.

“We need to be doing something, right, to eradicate homelessness. We have a problem,” Zullo said. “We have too many people who are sleeping out on the streets in the cold and extreme conditions. I don’t know that this gets to the heart of it. I think it asks too much of municipalities.”

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.