Litchfield County towns revamping affordable housing plans

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
Meeting on affordable housing

Meeting on affordable housing

Town of Warren

LITCHFIELD COUNTY — There’s a shortage of affordable housing in towns throughout Litchfield County, and many of those towns are now under pressure to remedy this.

The towns are required to follow the 2017 state statute that states all municipalities must develop an affordable housing plan by July 2022. The Northwest Hills Council of Governments is currently assisting nine county towns — Washington, Warren, Morris, Barkhamsted, Cornwall, Canaan (Falls Village), Harwinton, Norfolk, and Goshen — in its 21-town area with developing an affordable housing plan. The long-term goal of these plans is to meet the housing needs of current and future residents and workers in those towns.

Affordable housing is housing that costs less than 30 percent of the income of a household earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median income. In 2020, the Connecticut Department of Housing made grant money available to help municipalities develop an affordable housing plan.

According to a Housing Needs Assessment Study the town of Washington presented at a recent affordable housing meeting, about 480 households in Washington are considered “cost burdened,” meaning they’re paying more than 30 percent of their income on their housing costs.

The study also said while just 18 percent of Washington’s households have children, 70 percent of the town’s homes have three or more bedrooms.

“The majority of housing available may not fit the needs of young adults, young families or seniors that do not want to pay for or maintain a single-family home with three plus bedrooms,” said Jocelyn Ayer, NHCOG community and economic development director.

In the entire town, Washington has 44 affordable housing units and 12 units of affordable senior rental housing.

The town of Warren has even less housing that’s considered affordable than Washington. According to a presentation at a recent meeting in the town, one home in all of Warren qualifies under the state’s definition of affordable housing. There’s also no affordable senior rental housing.

At the meeting, Melissa Woodward, Warren’s social services director, said there’s a strong need for senior affordable housing options in Warren, as well as affordable housing for all ages.

“I have a lot of clients who are seniors who would benefit from downsizing their home, but they don’t have an option to,” Woodward said. “If we had affordable housing available, I know that there would be residents within our town who would access it, qualify for it and benefit from it immediately.”

According to Woodward, over the past year, 17 Warren residents accessed grants to aid with fuel, utilities and medical devices. At the town’s food pantry, she said she’s seen “a great increase of need of families who are food insecure. Twenty-five individuals are consistently using the pantry who are single seniors to families with children.”

The town of Salisbury is in the process creating more affordable housing geared toward young people. A recent petition was circulated to develop a proposed building site for this housing. The petition, “Young People Support Affordable Housing in Salisbury,” on Change.org garnered about 400 signatures in three weeks.

Salisbury resident Hannah Pouler, 22, said young families are being priced out of town. Her fear is the town will become “just be a retirement home, a place that gets really crowded on weekends” with people from out of town.

The town of New Milford is also looking for a new affordable housing plan, and has been getting calls about younger people who are struggling with mental health and having a hard time finding suitable housing.

The purchasing department in New Milford is accepting applications from professional planners and consulting firms ready to develop the plan. They’re focused on providing workforce housing and homes to those who can’t afford New Milford prices.

“We hear all the time from banks, grocery stores, schools restaurants, retirement homes, hospitals and manufacturers in our NWCT small towns about the need for affordable housing for their workers, and about the open jobs they cannot fill because the applicants for these positions cannot find housing they can afford, or they would like to rent, and no rental housing options are available,” Ayer said.

Ayer added many residents are concerned that creating affordable housing in a town would affect its rural character or increase its property taxes.

In response to those concerns, she said retaining the town’s rural environment is “a foundational goal” of the affordable housing plan. She also said typically, towns do not fund the construction or operating costs of affordable housing.

Over the coming months, the housing steering committees of many Litchfield County towns will be holding additional public meetings to further develop goals and strategies to move their housing plans forward.

sfox@milfordmirror.com