Home » Stock of affordable housing needs boost, speakers say

Stock of affordable housing needs boost, speakers say

KENT — Affordable housing (and the need for more of it) was the topic of a forum held at Kent Town Hall on June 16. About 50 people attended from Litchfield County. They came to hear 15 speakers in town government and the real estate business make the case for the need for homes here that working people can afford.In a nutshell, the message of the forum was: The population of the Northwest Corner is aging;there is an oversupply of large and costly homes; younger people need to be enticed into moving here, to work at essential jobs and to volunteer for town government and public safety positions but they can’t move here if housing is too costly.The 2011 HOPE Regional Housing Forum was sponsored by the Partnership for Strong Communities, Connecticut Association of Realtors and the HOPE Partnership, which is part of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.One goal of the forum was to educate area real estate agents and town officials about the resources that are available to them through agencies such as HOPE.“HOPE has the resources to assist everyone,” said Salisbury Selectman Bob Riva, who is also a Realtor. “It is not a cookie cutter approach,” he promised, adding that “These people are worth their weight in gold.” David Fink, policy director for Partnership for Strong Communities, shared some statistics. Connecticut, he noted, has the lowest availability of affordable housing of almost any state in the nation. And things are getting worse, not better. Ten years ago, 65.2 percent of homes in Connecticut were priced under $200,000. Ten years later, in 2010, only 23.1 percent were in that price range. A worker who wants to rent a two-bedroom apartment in this state has to earn on average $23 an hour, he said. And Stanley McMillen, managing economist for the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, said that it is the lack of affordable housing that keeps working men and women in rental properties. “In 112 of Connecticut’s 169 towns,” he said, “people earning a median income can not afford to purchase a median-priced home. This causes demand for rentals to rise faster than demand for owner-occupied housing.”A combination of high housing prices and a lack of high-paying jobs is driving young families and individuals away, the speakers warned. Connecticut is already the seventh oldest state in the nation, and it is steadily losing 25-to-35-year olds. There is a danger, one speaker said, that someday Connecticut towns will no longer be able to field enough able-bodied men and women to staff the volunteer emergency service squads. More than 100 of Connecticut’s 169 towns have volunteer fire departments.“In my town’s 50-member volunteer fire department, the average age is 52 years old, and only 12 are certified to fight fires,” Riva said. “We need younger members but will not get them without providing affordable workforce housing for them.” Some affordable housing myths and concerns were discussed. One is that an increase in young families in a community raises taxes because more children enter the public school system. The speakers disagreed with this theory and referred to study done at Rutgers University, which showed that not all housing brings children into the school system. Another concern that was discussed is whether affordable housing lowers nearby property values. A study done by MIT’s Center for Real Estate was quoted. Following an analysis of seven mixed-income rental housing developments in Massachusetts, the study concluded that there were “no significant differences between home values close to affordable developments and those in other parts of town.”

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