New Milford stress need for affordable housing
NEW MILFORD — When Barton Commons, an apartment complex with designated affordable housing units, opened on East Street about a year ago, the office was flooded with about 400 applications for the 40 available listings.
This was just one of the examples shared at a recent housing forum to illustrate the town’s need and desire for affordable housing.
“Diverse housing really makes a community more sustainable,” said Rebecca Augur, a principal planner at the consulting firm Milone and MacBroom. The information gathered from the 40 or so residents and town officials in attendance at the forum last week will be compiled into a report and used during the revision of the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
About 78 percent of the housing in town is single-family homes, compared to 66 percent statewide. About 19 percent of the housing is rented, according to the presentation.
Those gathered strongly believed there are not enough affordable housing options in town, especially small single-family homes, mixed-use developments, assisted-living complexes, apartments and condos.
Augur said it is important to have different housing options because housing needs vary throughout people’s lives.
Many said older residents have to move to another town, like Brookfield or Southbury, to find affordable and appropriate housing, including assisted-living communities and smaller, one-level homes.
It was also noted there are not many options for younger families. Most rentals have two bedrooms or fewer, which is not enough space usually for families with multiple children.
Some of those gathered said the smaller single-family homes, classified as anything less than 1,500 square feet, are snatched up as soon as they go on the market, regardless of the condition. They said there isn’t a demand for the larger homes, which have at least 3,000 square feet and tend to sit on the market.
“It’s not just millennials or empty-nesters,” Augur said.
She said some of the renters are people still recovering from the economic recession about 10 years ago who plan to buy once they can afford it.
Many of those who are renting or owning are still living in options that are cost-prohibitive, which is defined as spending more than 30 percent of an income on housing. Of the homeowners, about 28 percent fall into this category, as well as a bulk of the renters, Augur said.
“This is a concern for existing residents,” she said. “It’s also a concern that, is this a barrier for potential residents?”
In these cases, families might have to choose between meeting their housing payments or spending money on food or medical costs. This could prompt them to turn to the town for assistance in these areas, Augur said.
Affordable housing also attracts businesses and investors because it takes stress off employees, both financially and by allowing them to live closer.
One of the suggestions raised in the forum to deal with the problem was to offer incentives for affordable developments, especially downtown, where there’s existing infrastructure, such as sidewalks and sewer.
They also encouraged development along the riverfront and said a self-contained assisted-living complex could work along Route 7, as long as there are good transportation options to accommodate it.
Participants also said the town should offer more recreational opportunities, especially for younger people. Another possibility is removing the 55 or over age restriction on accessory apartments, so younger people could rent those units as well.
Those at the forum encouraged giving the zoning commission more leeway in proposals, especially for smaller dwellings and lots.