How New Milford-area towns plan to increase affordable housing stock

Towns in the New Milford area have proposed various initiatives to increase their affordable housing stock as part of plans they were required to submit to the state at the start of the month.

New Milford turned in its plan by the deadline, but some of the smaller towns surrounding it are still working on theirs.

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.

Jocelyn Ayer, director of the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity, works as a planning consultant to help towns in the state create an affordable housing plan.

She’s working with six of the towns in Litchfield County who have not yet handed in their affordable housing plans — Sharon, Burlington, North Canaan, Roxbury, Winchester and Torrington.

She said she expects “most” of those towns to submit their plans by the end of the year.

She added there is no penalty from the state for those municipalities who did not submit their plans by the June 1 deadline.

“We just didn’t want to rush the process,” Ayer said. “We wanted to make sure that residents had enough time to get the draft plan and give us their feedback.”

The state’s Office of Policy and Management will review the plans, which will be done every five years, going forward.

“What we’ve tried to do with housing plans I’ve been involved in is really raising awareness,” Ayer said. “I think people know that housing affordability is a challenge but they don’t know maybe how big of a challenge it is for how many of the residents in their town.”

Adding units in New Milford

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said when it comes to affordable housing, the town’s first approach focuses on education.

“We will educate people that are looking to purchase either homes or condos,” Bass said.

Toward that end, New Milford partners with some of its community banks, such as Union Savings Bank, to offer housing seminars.

Additionally, the town offers financial literacy courses through its social services department.

He added the state now offers additional financing that will be available for-first time home buyers, “especially with deed restricted properties through CHFA (the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority),” Bass said.

In New Milford, there are about 400 condo and town home units approved for affordable housing that have yet to be built by the developers.

“Right now, we’re reaching back out to the developers to see what stage that they’re in and what would be prohibiting them from moving forward,” Bass said.

He added some of the delays are most likely related to increased material costs and shortages in both material and labor.

Bass also said the town will do a “deep dive analysis” into its affordable housing availability.

Affordable housing breaking ground is on Boardman Road and Lanesville Road. Additionally, construction on affordable housing on Poplar Street will begin in the spring.

“Those three units alone are going to bring us well over 100 new units,” he said.

Bass said knowing what one’s debt-to-income ratios are, whether it involves buying a house or renting a house, “is very important.”

“We’re trying to build the backbones for that, so that our residents know fully going in and what their housing costs are going to be,” he said.

Housing trusts, accessory apartments

One of the goals in Roxbury’s affordable housing plan, which the town plans on submitting in August, is to form a housing trust organization.

“These are independent, nonprofit organizations separate from town government that help facilitate projects, like anything associated with affordable housing or various housing options,” Roxbury Selectman Kim Tester said.

Housing trusts, which are privately funded, could work with state government “or be totally independent and not be restricted by the type of funding that they get,” she added.

In 2021, Roxbury had 165 households that earned less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, and had 24 homes dedicated to remaining affordable to them. Eighteen of these 24 homes are designated for seniors only at Bernhardt Meadow.

The town also hopes to allow smaller size homes in appropriate areas.

“Thinking about restricting the square footage of homes in particular areas of town might be an option,” Tester said. “We thought that was a good option instead of always being able to build a huge house that cost a fortune.”

Another goal in Roxbury’s plan is to increase awareness about accessory apartments, which is an apartment with a separate entrance.

“You could have an apartment over your garage or you can a free standing second home on your property — as long as it’s smaller than the primary residence,” Tester said.

She said typically, an accessory apartment is for family members.

“It could be people who want to rent it out and make some extra money — a second income that could help them stay in their homes,” she said.

In its affordable housing plan, Tester said that town also hopes to assist income-eligible homeowners with health and safety repairs.

Towns can do that through a loan program offered by the state called the Community Development Block Grant/Small Cities Funded Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program. The money must be used for such repairs as a new roof, wheelchair ramp or furnace replacement. It can’t be used for general remodeling.

‘Expand and preserve’

In Kent’s affordable housing plan, which the town plans to submit by November, a goal is to support affordable homebuyer options.

“We took a whole bunch of data that Jocelyn collected on Kent and we took a bunch of months to really look into the data and what are the gaps? What are the shortcomings?” Kent First Selectman Jean Speck said. “We were able to come up with these goals based on that.”

Kent has 67 affordable housing units, which is about 4 percent of its housing stock, according to the State’s Affordable Housing Appeals listing.

In that number, its government assisted affordable housing developments are South Common, with 24 units; Stuart Farms, with 13 units; and Templeton Farms, with 24 units.

Speck said the town hopes to “expand and preserve” dedicated affordable housing by exploring grant options for new developments.

She said she also hopes to explore the feasibility of additional units at Templeton Farms and South Common Apartments, where the waiting lists are years-long.

Yet another goal, Speck said, is to conduct outreach to landowners, to let them know they can take a piece of their property and “donate to Kent affordable housing.”

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