Regional affordable housing need remains critical

Residents of Kugeman Village speak highly of the homes and state they would not be able to live in Cornwall if the units weren’t available.

Riley Klein

Regional affordable housing need remains critical

The Northwest Corner needs affordable housing. While each town has taken steps to address the issue, the need remains.

Jocelyn Ayer, director of Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity (LCCHO), summed it up: “Overall, our communities, these towns just don’t have different housing options for different points in people’s lives. A vast majority of our housing stock was designed for families with children,” said Ayer. “For example, 90% of the housing stock in Salisbury is all one kind of housing: single family detached housing.”

The LCCHO is in its third year of operations, working under its parent company The Housing Collective. Ayer and her coworkers provide project management support to affordable housing nonprofits in Litchfield County.

As part of its public information campaign, LCCHO created the Litch­field Housing Needs Assessment Tool, a guide explaining housing needs in the county with exhaustive data on the 26 towns.

“We all benefit from having housing opportunities in our community for everyone, including volunteers with our fire and ambulance services, young teachers, and older folks who can’t afford to stay in their homes,” said Ayer.

In 2022, the region had 61,000 jobs, in small businesses, volunteer emergency services, and health care facilities, etc. Ayer said, “A lot of the most in-demand jobs in Litchfield County pay under $50,000 a year—that would make all those folks eligible to live in affordable housing if we had it. Still, we have long waiting lists. In Salisbury, there are over a hundred households on the list.”

People have stayed on wait lists for up to five years, leaving many to pay more than the recommended 30% of their income on housing.

LCCHO has partnered with four nonprofits in the county, two of which are in Salisbury and Cornwall, on a 10-unit scattered site affordable homeownership project. “Scattered sites” are a trending use for parcels of land owned by local housing groups. It is a challenge for one or two units to be competitive for funding opportunities, so LCCHO combines these smaller nonprofits under one application to the Department of Housing. The hope is that together the sites will receive funding. It is an attractive model and if more towns see more donations of smaller units of land the LCCHO can attempt further scattered sites.

Below is a breakdown by town of completed projects, ongoing efforts, and remaining need for affordable housing in the Northwest Corner.

Salisbury

Of all the Region One towns, Ayer said, “Salisbury is walking the walk and talking the talk.”

The Salisbury Housing Trust is a nonprofit working toward affordable homeownership. Two of their projects are part of the above mentioned 10-unit scattered site initiative.

The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) and a town meeting on July 7, 2022, approved plans for the Perry Street project which will have two houses. Ayer hopes to break ground on construction in late fall, so the site can be finished in about a year.

SHT’s Grove Street School Site, now called Undermountain Road, is awaiting approval from P&Z. A continuation of the public hearing was held Monday, June 17, to discuss plans for two single family affordable homes, which resulted in another continuation to be held July 1 (See full Undermountain housing story on Page A4).

After a site is approved by P&Z, a town vote will be held to donate the specified land to the nonprofits. Ayer said, “If it’s not ready, it’s not ready. We can’t build until it goes through the town meeting vote.”

A second nonprofit, the Salisbury Housing Committee Inc., helps with affordable rentals. Sarum Village III is the first of three ongoing projects. There are 10 new units under construction, expected to be ready this fall.

The Dresser Woods site has P&Z approval for 20 units. Salisbury submitted a Small Cities application for infrastructure funding.

A concept to develop 64 units of affordable housing has been proposed for the town-owned Pope property on Salmon Kill Road. Discussions are ongoing with P&Z and the Pope Land Use Committee.

In Lakeville, Holley Place, is 14 units, with P&Z and town meeting approval. It is seeking funding. Also in Lakeville, the occupied rentals in Lakeville Apartments are undergoing renovations.

Cornwall

In Litchfield County, most residents own as opposed to rent. Individuals and families for whom renting is the more accessible financial option often cannot find a rental property. Throughout the county, 75.5% of occupied units are owned, 24.5% are rented. In Cornwall, the split is higher at 79.3% and 20.7%.

A recent regulation approval by P&Z will allow for duplex and triplex homes to be constructed by private developers. Previously only nonprofits could apply to build multi-family homes. By implementing this change, the town is optimistic that more rental units will be built.

The larger scattered site homeownership program, also working with Salisbury, is helping the Cornwall Housing Corporation build on three available lots. The group needs funding for construction and hope to start building this fall.

There are ongoing renovations at the existing affordable rental units at Kugeman Village. Residents of Kugeman speak highly of the village and state they would not be able to live in Cornwall if the units weren’t available.

Last December, Cornwall formed an Affordable Housing Commission to advocate for more opportunities and seek grants.

Ayer said, “They are looking out for other opportunities for their next project.”

Sharon

On Thursday, June 13, nonprofit Sharon Housing Trust got approval for a lease agreement with the Board of Selectmen for their Community Center Building project which will have four 2-bedroom units of affordable housing. The town is working now on a grant application for renovation funding.

A press release from the SHT released further details. If they receive funding in the next 15 months, the lease will be for 99 years, $1 per year, so long as the space is used for affordable housing. On Friday, June 14, the Town of Sharon submitted a Small Cities application for a $1 million grant.

Casey Flanagan, Sharon first selectman, stated, “I am pleased with the thorough process the Town completed to arrive at the decision that the conversion of the Community Center into affordable housing was the best use of the property. We look forward to the day the renovation of the building is completed as it will give an opportunity to people who are in desperate need.”

On a lot adjacent to the Community Center Building site, the trust acquired space has three buildings of six affordable rental housing units. Sharon applied for state funded renovations here as well. The hope is to unify all the spaces into a community with funding.

Kent

Completed in several stages from 2010 to 2020, Stuart Farm in Kent houses 13 rental units. The apartments were developed and maintained by nonprofit Kent Affordable Housing near the town center. Residents qualify by earning less than 80% of the median income for the area.

A town meeting April 26, 2024, approved access for KAH to start on a 10-unit site at the South Common Development. The group needs P&Z approval and an architect to move forward.

This new land is next to the existing South Commons Development for affordable rental housing. Additional renovations there just finished.

KAH is collaborating with the Kent Volunteer Fire Department in hopes of creating new homes for firefighters. LCCHO helped write a funding application for three housing units for KVFD volunteers. It’s a unique case for the emergency service workers.

Ayer said, “If you’re going to build with state or federal funding, you can’t limit it to only volunteer fire department members.”

Falls Village

The Falls Village Housing Trust is the nonprofit in the Town of Canaan. It acquired two houses for a five-unit property for affordable rental housing, and state funding to pay back acquisition loan and cover renovations.

Ayer said, “That’s the first dedicated affordable rental housing in that town.”

The larger River Road Homes for 16 energy efficient rental units got P&Z approval and awaits infrastructure funding. The funding is critical for well and septic, as the town doesn’t have public water or sewer systems. In their attempts to raise money, they recently received a positive environmental review.

North Canaan

In North Canaan, 19.4% of households are paying more than 50% of income on housing: the third highest rate of all the towns in Litchfield County.

As of the 2022 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) there were 125 dedicated affordable dwellings in North Canaan. The POCD breaks down that figure:

“40 of these homes are for seniors and disabled at Wangum Village which is overseen by the North Canaan Housing Authority (by a board made up of North Canaan residents.). 34 homes are for seniors at Beckley House on the campus of Geer Village. 37 homes are at Station Place in downtown North Canaan which has 4 3-bedrooms, 24 2-bedrooms, and 9 1-bedroom apartments. 14 of these are homes that received mortgage assistance through the CT Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) or USDA.” (Note: the North Canaan Housing Authority has since dissolved, but Wangum Village remains.)

On May 6, First Selectman Brian Ohler called for plans to reinstate North Canaan’s housing committee to address its lack of affordable housing. The town does not have a housing trust or an alternative nonprofit like other towns in the region.

LCCHO helped write the town’s housing plan, which calls for a housing trust. Ayer said, “I will say, interestingly, if you look at the data, a lot of North Canaan’s households spend more than 50% of their income on housing costs, more than the other towns we are talking about.”

Norfolk

In Norfolk, 51.8% of the houses were built before 1950. Converting such homes into mutiple units for affordable housing requires considerable funding.

The historic Royal Arcanum Building, built in 1902 for the Norfolk Volunteer Fire Department and the Royal Arcanum secret fraternal benefit society, partnered with the nonprofit Foundation for Norfolk Living. The separate Norfolk Foundation, the entity that owns the property, will help the nonprofit with five affordable rental housing units.

Haystack Woods is another ongoing project under the nonprofit for 10 units of single-family homeownership. It will be the first Net Zero community development in the state, fit with solar panels. It’s seeking construction funding.

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