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Affordable Housing Plan: Kent assesses needs of young adults, families and local workers

“We are not the canary in the coal mine. We will benefit from all the other towns that came before us.” — Jean Speck, Kent Housing Plan Steering Committee member and first selectman

KENT – A Community Feedback Forum sponsored by Kent’s Housing Plan Steering Committee on Wednesday, June 22, focused on an assessment of the town’s housing needs for young adults and young families as well as options for people who work in town.

The Zoom event was the second community forum seeking input from residents as the town looks to expand its affordable housing stock. The committee is being assisted by Jocelyn Ayer, director for the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity and a land use planner, who has been providing technical assistance to Kent, and numerous other Northwest Corner towns, in developing their affordable housing plans.

“This will head us in the direction of a draft and final plans for our state requirement to come up with a strategy for housing in Kent,” said Jean Speck, a member of the committee’s steering committee and the town’s first selectman. “We are not the canary in the coal mine. We will benefit from all the other towns that came before us.”

Assessment of existing housing stock

The forum started with a recap of the three elements that are included in the town housing plan:

Resident Housing Needs survey results and data analysis; an assessment of existing housing stock and goals and strategies to meet identified housing needs.

Ayer noted that the committee’s efforts are being coordinated with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development update which the Planning and Zoning Commission is currently working on. “This Housing Plan will be a guiding document. It won’t have regulatory authority,” she explained.

The Housing Plan, she said, will focus on options for young adults and families as well as options for residents to downsize to one- or two-bedroom homes with lower maintenance and accessibility features.

Definition of affordable, dedicated housing

Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) defines affordable housing as housing that costs 30% of the income of a household earning 80% or less of the area median income (AMI). The CGS definition of dedicated housing is that which must be monitored in some way — by deed restriction or by a state agency, for two examples — to ensure households are income eligible and rent/mortgage stays affordable.

Kent currently has 67 units that qualify as “affordable,” representing 4% of Kent’s housing stock, according to data provided by the committee. An online poll taken during the forum asking, “How many dedicated affordable homes would we want to see created over the next five years?” Thirty percent of respondents indicated they would support a goal of 20 homes in five years. Forty-three percent answered “no,” that the number should be higher and 13 percent felt it should be lower.

According to Ayer, Kent had 460 households under 80% of the area median income. These households would be eligible for affordable housing and represent 40% of the town’s housing stock. In addition, she said, 199 households are severely cost burdened, which means they are paying more than 50% of their income on housing costs, and 107 households are currently on waiting lists for the dedicated units.

The Templeton Farms multi-family rental housing already has a “very, very long waiting list” of 79 seniors, and that wait could be up to five years or more, Ayer added. The Stuart Farm and South Commons apartment complexes have 28 households waiting.

Discussion also focused on expanding and preserving dedicated affordable housing in Kent, supporting affordable home-buyer options, support for the creation of accessory apartments, increasing diversity of Kent’s housing stock and ways to help meet the housing needs of those who contribute to the community by working and living in town.

Increase in noise, traffic?

Resident Julianne Dow asked what the impact on Kent would be if additional affordable housing is created, and its potential impact on the town’s population, traffic, pollution and noise. “I notice on weekends, especially, that there is a lot of noise and traffic always,” she noted.

In response, Virginia Sutton, steering committee member and long-time affordable housing advocate, explained that when the Templeton Farms apartments were proposed in the 1970’s, “People said it would be a detriment to the town because a lot of people would be coming in from other places. And in a generation, it turned out that the people who objected to it being built found out that their mothers are now living there.” Then another generation went by and now the people who originally objected to the Templeton Farms proposal are themselves living there, happily, she said.

The Steering Committee meets monthly on the 4th Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m., and the meetings are open to the public. Agendas and minutes are also posted on the town website, www.townofkentct.org.

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