Housing initiatives critical for the region

How important is affordable housing to the health of our society here in the Northwest Corner? If you have been following this newspaper’s news and opinion coverage over the past years, you will know that we believe it is critical. And we don’t come by that opinion in a vacuum. It has been backed up through studies done by area foundations, commissions, committees, and of course by the area towns’ state assessment as far as percentage of affordable housing compared to what Connecticut actually requires.

Remember the series of more than 20 columns by Salisbury’s Mary Close Oppenheimer on the effect of lack of affordable housing on people who live here?  Or shall we say, try to live here? She accomplished that lengthy project, interviewing many people and families on their plight in searching for places to reside, over the course of more than a year in 2015 to 2016. To see her wrap-up column, go to www.tricornernews.com/node/47423.

This is a problem that will greatly affect the region in the long-term if it is not sufficiently addressed. So it was good to note that two towns are coming at solutions right now, one from a beginning and the other having come to a successful outcome.

In Kent, Stuart Farms has five new apartments finished due to the hard work of volunteers at Kent Affordable Housing. (See the story by Elyse Sadtler in last week’s Lakeville Journal.) That makes 10 at that location,  and a total of 34 low-rental apartments in Kent. The other 24 are at the South Common complex. Kent Affordable Housing President Virginia Bush-Suttman freely admitted at the Stuart Farms grand opening ceremony June 1 that the project had come in “over budget and over schedule,” but added what everyone was likely thinking: at least they got the project done. 

In Salisbury, which had a ribbon-cutting ceremony in July of 2017 to celebrate the completion of eight new units at its Sarum Village affordable housing complex, the town is considering a tract of land in downtown Lakeville as a location for 12 to 18 new affordable apartments. When Sarum Village added the eight apartments, that meant there were 55 units of deed-restricted affordable housing in Salisbury, or about 2 percent of its housing stock. The state goal for affordable housing is 10 percent.

So it is to Salisbury’s and Kent’s credit that they continue to try to find new locations for affordable housing, in towns that don’t have all that much available and suitable open land or vacant space. All the Northwest Corner towns have struggled with this problem, and still need to find new ways around old obstacles in order to supply more affordable housing for their residents. 

It’s not an issue that is unique to this region, but the region is unique enough that our solutions must be creative as well as practical. There is help out there for those looking for housing in the region. Without that help, the school enrollment will continue its decline and people who are critical to a healthy community will continue to leave. 

For more information on area affordable housing, go to www.kentaffordablehousing.org; www.salisburyct.us/affordablehousing; and for regional information on housing initiatives, www.berkshiretaconic.org.