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Kent April 15, 2021

Affordable housing: What we have and what we need

GOSHEN — Jocelyn Ayer and Janell Mullen of the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG) provided a concise overview of affordable housing in an online session on Wednesday, March 31. The NHCOG is an association of the first selectmen of 21 regional towns.

Mullen highlighted bills currently working their way through the state Legislature. Senate Bill 1024, among other things, would make it easier to create accessory dwelling units within single-family homes. 

It would also require additional training for members of zoning boards and commissions.

Much of SB 1024 concerns “transit-oriented development,” which doesn’t apply to Northwest Corner towns with little or no public transportation.

But the bill also redefines the word “character” in land use applications, to mean physical characteristics of buildings and not people.

Much of SB 1024 is based on recommendations from an advocacy group, Desegregate Connecticut (www.desegregatect.org).

Mullen demonstrated how to use the bill-tracking feature on the state Legislature’s website, www.cga.gov.

Ayer provided a “power-pointy” presentation on affordable housing, including definitions and the results of research on how much affordable housing exists in the 21 towns represented in the NHCOG, and how much is needed.

The information will soon be available in a hard copy report. It is available online now at northwesthillscog.org/housing, along with other affordable housing data.

What is
‘affordable housing’

Ayer noted that the housing landscape has changed considerably in the last year or so, with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Part-time residents are now full-time, and many homes have been purchased by people anxious to leave densely populated areas such as New York City.

This has resulted in a significant reduction in available properties, higher overall home prices and far fewer rental options.

Ayer said that people on waiting lists for what affordable housing exists spend between one and five years on such lists until something becomes available.

Ayer spoke about the definition of “affordable housing.” It means housing that costs less than 30% of the income of  a household earning 80% or less of the area median income. In Connecticut, area median income is figured by county.

So for Litchfield County in 2020, 80% of area median income for a one-person household is $57,456. For two people, $65,664. Three people, $73,872. Four people, $82,080. Five people, $88,646.

To be counted as affordable, the housing must be monitored in some way to ensure the cost remains at or below the affordability threshold.

What is here,
what is needed

Ayer presented data on how much affordable housing is needed in the NHCOG towns. 

In the 21 towns, there are 18,456 households that earn below 80% of the area median income for Litchfield County; 10,568 households are paying more than 30% of their income on housing.

In the 21 towns, there were 3,357 units of affordable housing in 2020.

It is estimated that the 21 towns require an additional 3,498 units of affordable housing to house the most “housing cost burdened” households — those spending more than 50% of their income on housing costs.

And 1,520 households were on waiting lists as of November 2020.

Between 2010 and 2020, nonprofit organizations and housing authorities created 84 affordable rental units and 20 home ownership units.

The state has set a goal of 10% affordable housing for municipalities, and towns are required to create an affordable housing plan. 

Most of the 21 NHCOG towns are nowhere near the 10% figure. In Region One, only North Canaan, with 162 units, is at 10%.

Falls Village currently has 11 units (1.41%). Cornwall has 36 units (3.57%). Kent has 67 units (4.02%). Salisbury has 42 units (1.62%) and Sharon has 36 units (2.03%). 

Dramatic increase
in sale prices

Ayer said that over the past five years median home prices have risen in all but one NHCOG town, and the average change for all 21 towns was an increase of $115,000.

And average sales prices in 2020 were higher than median sales prices in all the towns. (This average is somewhat skewed by sales of some very expensive homes.)

In Region One towns, the median sales price for homes between 2016 and 2020 rose by $122,500 in Falls Village; $249,500 in Cornwall; $23,750 in Kent; $16,000 in North Canaan; $221,000 in Salisbury; and $142,500 in Sharon.

Thus the median sales price in 2020 for Region One towns was $257,500; Cornwall, $547,500; Kent, $368,750; North Canaan, $175,000; Salisbury, $646,000; and Sharon, $475,000

Average sales prices in 2020 in Region One: Falls Village, $352,530; Cornwall, $718,029; Kent, $612,925; North Canaan, $205,309; Salisbury, $912,600; Sharon, $960,953.

Ayer noted that many homes that sold recently at or below the median price are older and require significant improvements, which makes them less affordable than the sales price might indicate.

Ayer said the region needs more housing options — “not just single-family homes.”

Also needed: units with three bedrooms or fewer; more rentals; and, simply, more units that meet the “affordable housing” definition.

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