Housing: a big, urgent challenge
GOSHEN — Proving that it takes more than a village to solve the Northwest Corner’s affordable housing crisis, about 80 people, including state and local officials, regional housing groups, representatives of nonprofit organizations, housing advocates and residents gathered on Tuesday, Oct. 18, to kick off a Litchfield County Housing Affordability Summit.
The purpose of the event, sponsored by the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity (LC-CHO) and held at the site of renovated units at Goshen Housing Trust property, was to “facilitate a regional response” to presenting affordable housing in Litchfield County, according to Jocelyn Ayer, LC-CHO’s director.
“It’s a big and urgent challenge,” she said, addressing the crowd. Ayer noted that the goal is for attendees to “learn from each other and figure out how we can all work together to do this.”
The two-hour event, which started with a keynote address by Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno of the Connecticut Department of Housing (CDH), also included an awards presentation to three individuals from Salisbury and Kent for their dedication to their communities in the quest to bring affordable rental units and home ownership to full-time residents.
Seed funding from DOH
Mosquera-Bruno noted that volunteers can only do so much, and if they don’t have adequate funding, “it can take years” for projects to proceed. The commissioner then announced that help is on the way from the DOH in the form of $500,000 in seed funding that can be used for capacity building and expenses like architectural plans and soil sampling, as well as shared project manager support.
“I want to come back for those ribbon-cutting ceremonies, which I am waiting for,” she told the crowd.
Nandini Natarajan, CEO of the quasi-public Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, outlined CHFA resources available to communities, including its Time To Own Program. The Litchfield County population, on average is older, the housing market is competitive, houses for sale are selling three times faster and when they do sell, they are “well above the asking price,” Natarajan noted. Also, younger people tend to live with their families longer, she said.
“So what if we celebrate what makes the Northwest Corner of Connecticut unique,” like the “amazing work that is going on across the region,” instead of framing the challenges in a negative light, she said.
One approach, said Natarajan, is “investing in where we live. Housing is inherently intersectional. It exists so that all the other parts of our life can exist as well.”
Two achievement awards and a YIMBY
The program also included awards presentations to three individuals from Salisbury and Kent.
The YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) award was presented to Jim Dresser, a longtime housing advocate and former Salisbury selectman who, in May, donated a 5.3 acre parcel of land adjacent to his property near the town village to the Salisbury Housing Committee (SHC) for the construction of 18 to 20 affordable rental units.
“Jim is dogged in his pursuit of creating housing options in his community,” Ayer said.
Dresser recalled a gathering of the Salisbury Forum in 2000, which initially addressed the shortage of affordable rental units in town.
“It was identified as the most important problem facing the town of Salisbury. While that was what people would put on paper, it didn’t happen for various reasons.” He said he is glad to see a recent sea change in the public’s perception of affordable housing.
Longtime affordable housing advocates Virginia Bush Suttman of Kent and Anne Kremer of Salisbury were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Bill Bachrach, who is on the board of directors for Kent Affordable Housing, accepted Suttman’s award as she was out of state visiting relatives. He credited Suttman, the group’s president emerita, for her “tireless work to expand affordable housing opportunities,” over the past 15 years, from crafting knit hats to raise funds for the effort, to measuring and installing shelf liners in new apartment kitchens.
“Virginia sets an example for all of us because she walks the walk,” having recently established a second accessory apartment in an outbuilding on her property, noted Bachrach.
Peter Halle, co-president of the nonprofit Salisbury Housing Committee (SHC), accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award for Kremer, who had led SHC for the past decade. “At that time, we had 22 units. We now have 39, with another 10 approved and we expect to break ground later this year.”