The Day – New London to consider new affordable housing plan

NEW LONDON – Household incomes in New London are rising even as house prices and rents continue to rise, according to a new study into affordable housing.

The study found that 52% of renter households are cost-burdened or spend more than 30% of their income on housing, leaving them less money for necessities like groceries, transportation, education, health care and childcare. More than 60% of households in the city rent rather than own their own home.

The New London Affordable Housing Plan, presented to the City Council’s Public Welfare Committee at City Hall on Monday, recommends the city continue its work on increasing the availability of affordable housing, particularly larger units. The study estimates that there are a total of 1,218 households of four or more people and only 290 units with four or more bedrooms. The result is that families rent units with fewer bedrooms than there are people.

The study was compiled by RKG Associates and is a requirement of new state law that also requires the study to be conducted every five years. The affordable housing plan must also state how a municipality intends to increase the supply of affordable housing.

RKG Associates is an economics, planning and real estate consulting firm with offices in Washington, DC, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas and Durham, NC Eric Halvorsen, director of RKG Associates, said the company is working with 18 other municipalities on similar affordable housing plans . New London’s plan was finalized with input from a committee led by Judi Cox, who works in the city’s Office of Development and Planning. The committee included residents and representatives from the New London Housing Authority, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and Eastern Connecticut Housing Opportunities, or ECHO. ECHO is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide affordable housing for low-income families and individuals.

The housing study suggests that more can be done to address the disparities that exist across the city. The city’s average gross rent is $987 per month and the average home value is $229,949. Rents for a one-bedroom apartment increased by 60% between 2011 and 2019. Household incomes have increased across most segments of the population, except for black households, which have seen declines.

The study estimates that 60% to 65% of people working in the city’s largest occupations cannot afford rent or a new home. These categories include office and administrative support, health care, sales, management, food preparation, and education.

New London, where 22% of its housing stock will be considered affordable by 2021, is already surpassing the state’s 10% target, the study shows. Affordable housing costs no more than 30% of a family’s household income, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In New London, the construction of new housing at market prices is booming. Mayor Michael Passero said the new building relieves pressure on New London, which is finding it difficult to find a vacancy at any cost.

“Without this housing stock that we’re building now that we didn’t have, the people who can afford these market-driven housing units would otherwise claim housing at the lower end and take it away from the people who can’t afford that market,” he said Passero. “That relieves the housing market.”

Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said the city’s strategy is to strike a balance. As new units continue to be built at market prices, the city will continue to look for ways to develop more affordably and preserve the existing inventory “so we don’t lose what we already have.”

Passero said that would-be affordable housing developers in the city are suffering from a lack of federal funding since New London already has a relatively high affordable housing rate. One example is the repeated attempts by the Massachusetts-based Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative to provide low-income housing for the families who have moved out of the 124-unit Thames River Apartments, which were state-subsidized and managed by the New London Housing Authority. Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative has been unsuccessful in several attempts to secure funding for the project from programs sponsored by the Connecticut Housing Authority and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

New London Affordable Housing Plan recommendations include: expanding the program for first-time home buyers, establishing an Affordable Housing Trust, encouraging shared-equity programs, redevelopment without displacement, and establishing a registration and inspection process and allowing for a fair rental commission.

The recommendations would help the city meet a list of goals that include increasing affordable homeownership opportunities, particularly for communities of color and those impacted by urban regeneration.

Councilor James Burke noted during RKG Associates’ presentation Monday that the concentration of higher income and real estate values ​​is in the southern part of the city compared to the north. He asked if it was possible “to combat the economic segregation that seems to be happening between the economically disadvantaged parts of the city in the north and the economically more viable parts in the south”.

Eric Halvorsen, director of RKG Associates, who introduced the plan, said some of the disparity was related to the concentration of tenants in the north, and unsurprisingly the higher home values ​​are closer to the water. He said the city could potentially target the southern areas with inclusion zoning, which requires new housing construction to include a certain number of units affordable for low- and middle-income people. He said the city can also identify urban lots for the construction of low-income housing.

Frida Berrigan, a chair of the Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust, said at Monday’s meeting that “I saw a lot in the draft that is badly needed,” and she was pleased that her organization was mentioned as part of the solution. She said she will be watching “how all these great ideas are implemented” and “who within the current city government is tasked with doing it.”

“All the ideas were really good, but I’m worried about the execution,” she said.

Berrigan, a former Green Party candidate for mayor of New London, was the only member of the public to speak at Monday’s meeting of the City Council’s Public Welfare Committee, of which Councilwoman Martha Marx chairs. Half a dozen people attended the committee meeting, which preceded the city council meeting.

The Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that holds land for the development of sustainable affordable housing, food production, green space, and facilities for community organizations, according to its website. The group recently hosted an event called Homeownership in New London: A Historical Perspective on Racist Barriers to the ‘American Dream’ and How to Build Equity Now.

The city used federal assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic this year to revitalize its assistance program for first-time homebuyers, and in 2019 partnered with the nonprofit Eastern Connecticut Housing Opportunities, which buys homes for owner-occupation through a program that rehabilitate and resell under the name of Hempstead District Homeowners Program.

The Council is expected to consider adopting the plan at its May 16 meeting at 7pm at City Hall. The full map is available on the city’s website, newlondonct.org.

g.smith@theday.com

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