Please remember that anything on these webpages is unofficial.

Good data source;  link here to our other housing page.
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THE HOUSING SOURCE ON INFO FOR SOUTHWESTERN CT:
Westport meeting on affordable and workforce housing;  SWRPA offices at Stamford Government Center with view of the city and 4th floor open space off cafeteria.  Click on construction picture (r.) to return to HOUSING page here.

The South Western Region of Connecticut 2009 - April 14th in Darien - second housing summit!
Blue Ribbon Commission;
- related $$ Matters;  new incentive housing program part of Special Session 2007 ombibus bill 1500 here.


TABLE OF CONTENTS: 
  1. News...
  2. post-SWRPA '08 housing summit.
  3. SWRPA post-regional plan update review of housing strategies for South Western CT;  Ideas from Island County, WA.
  4. More recent articles on projects on the from burner here:  Stamford (Trump);  Stamford (Antares);  Norwalk;
  5. PRESS RELEASE:  from think tank: http://www.ctpartnershiphousing.com/
  6. Big grant to Housing Development Fund, Inc.;  role of rental housing?
  7. Most recent housing study;  low-income housing website http://nlihc.org/
  8. Housing Study by Harvard:  http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/publications/finance/03-2_apgar.pdf
  9. Affordable housing series in the Stamford ADVOCATE;
  10. POPULATION PROJECTIONS from University of CT...following on studies about "The Five Connecticuts."
  11. City of Stamford's Affordable Housing "Strategy" here: (URL is: http://www.cityofstamford.org/filestorage/25/52/138/164/174/755/202/AffordableHousing.pdf)
  12. Link here to BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION REPORT ON SMART GROWTH/PROPERTY TAX...
  13. METROPATTERNS;
  14. Affordable Housing History...and some interesting news reports as well as Norwalk HOUR series HERE;
  15. Housing link for more background.  And a brand new study, relatively speaking, that has a few good ideas!
  16. Civil rights lawsuits reviving.
  17. GENERAL LAWS OF MASSACHUSETTS CHAPTER 40R. SMART GROWTH ZONING AND HOUSING PRODUCTION:  http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/gl-40r-toc.htm




Connecticut Per Capita Income Still No. 1
Grows 10th Fastest In Country

The Hartford Courant  
By MARA LEE maralee@courant.com
10:20 AM EDT, March 28, 2012

Per capita personal income for Connecticut residents increased by 4.9 percent in 2011, faster than the nation as a whole, according to a preliminary estimate that shows the state remaining in the No. 1 spot, far ahead of No. 2 Massachusetts.

If the total amount of income were divided equally between every man, woman and child living in Connecticut, each of us would have received $56,889 last year.

The estimate could change significantly as more data is collected. Last year, the initial estimate from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis was that the per capita income was $56,001 in 2010; now the bureau says it was $54,239.

But even if this estimate is too optimistic, Connecticut is likely to stay in the No. 1 position among states. Our closest rival, Massachusetts, has a per-capita income of $53,621 in the early estimates.

The total income earned in Connecticut in 2011 has now passed its pre-recession peak, and grew about as fast as the nation as a whole. Our per capita income can grow faster than average even as overall income growth is average because the state's population growth is slower than average.

Connecticut's per capita income grew 10th fastest in the country, and was the only state in that top 10 group whose growth was not due to growth in either mining or farming.

Connecticut's income growth was driven by the rebound in finance and insurance. Earnings among workers in that industry grew more than 8 percent — 69 percent faster than the national average.

Connecticut's per capita income is more than $15,000 higher than the national average – last year, it was $14,000 higher than the national average.




In Connecticut And The Nation, Families Have An Alarming Lack of Financial Cushion
The Hartford Courant
By MARA LEE maralee@courant.com
9:39 PM EST, February 2, 2012

When it comes to Connecticut residents' financial health, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for our relative prosperity.  For instance, we are more likely to be covered by a pension or have savings in a 401(k) than people in other states.

But a new report cites a reason for concern: More than a third of state households, 35 percent, have so little savings that they would be entirely or almost completely reliant on unemployment checks or Social Security if they couldn't work.  That's lower than the 43 percent of households nationally with no significant savings, according to the Corporation for Enterprise Development, which released the figures in its Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. But it's still alarming, the group said, especially considering the high cost of living in Connecticut.

The figures were based on the amount of income needed to live at poverty level for three months: $2,700 for single adults, $3,600 for couples, $4,500 for a family of three and $5,500 for a family of four — including bank accounts and retirement savings. That's far below the standard financial advice that it's best to have a cushion of six months of regular expenses.

Kasey Wiedrich, senior researcher for CFED, a Washington nonprofit that advocates for better opportunities for low-income families, said even though job losses don't often drop household income down to zero, the report "shows how vulnerable families are."

The lack of a financial cushion for people who have jobs may be largely forgotten at a time when millions of people aren't working at all, but it's a potential crisis, groups such as CFED say.

Karyn Pitt, of Hartford, said she had never heard of the recommendation that people keep six months of living expenses in savings. "That would be kind of hard," she said — and saving three months' living expenses would be hard for the average person, too.

Chris Konkol of West Hartford said he and his wife have at least six months of living expenses in cash, but he said, "I feel sorry for those starting out. How do you get there?"

Konkol has a 24-year-old child living at home who can't find work, and his 21-year-old son is going to graduate college this year, without ever having had a summer job. "I don't think it was for lack of trying," his father said.  Fatima Vilar is among the Connecticut residents in good financial shape. She and her husband own a home in East Hartford and have at least six months of living expenses in savings.

"You hear how great the pay is here, we're in one of the wealthiest states, but I don't feel that way. You just have to look around you, there's so much poverty," said Vilar, who was walking around Bushnell Park on her lunch break this week. "Even in this park, you see it."

Connecticut residents' pay — including employer contributions to pensions or 401(k)s — was second only to New York in 2010, according to CFED, which adjusted the total of salary, bonuses and retirement contributions for relative costs of living.  Federal data show that in 2010, the average full-time worker in Connecticut made $51,920 in 2010, not including retirement contributions and some other items — second behind Massachusetts.

Homeownership is also a measure of asset wealth, for the majority of homeowners whose properties are worth more than their mortgage debt. And in the CFED report, Connecticut ranked among the worst in the gap in homeownership between non-Hispanic whites and all others. Whites are twice as likely to own a house or condo as blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the state.  Only Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts had larger gaps of homeownership by race and ethnicity. Pitt, who is black, and who rents, said that's not surprising.

"There's always going to be a difference there," she said, and she attributed part of it to people who are poor or working poor wanting to buy only if they can leave the distressed neighborhoods where they're renting.

"They want to get out of their neighborhood, and it's very expensive to get into the neighborhood they'd want to get into," she said.


CFED recommends that all states either start Individual Development Account programs or spend more money on them. These sorts of programs help low-income people with counseling and matches to their savings, so they can buy a house, go to college, or start a business.

Connecticut has spent $2.9 million on its IDA program since 2000, which was linked with $1.2 million in private donations and $900,000 in federal funds. That money has helped more than 974 individuals and families.

Vilar said she thinks the solution to the number of Connecticut families with virtually no savings is better financial education in schools. "I believe children, very early in school, should be taught how to budget money and how to handle money, because they don't always get [that lesson] from their parents," she said.


2010 FORECLOSURE STORIES HERE.

Connecticut's Personal Income Trend Worst in Nation

Investment Income Mostly To Blame
The Hartford Courant
By MARA LEE maralee@courant.com
10:07 AM EST, December 17, 2010

Connecticut's personal income — the amount all the state's residents earned, and collected on investments — fell more than twice as fast than the country as a whole, the worst performance in the nation, a government report released Friday shows.

The aggregate income figure for July through September was $199.4 million, down from 199.5 million from April through June. That's not the amount earned during the period, but the amount the state's people could expect to make for the whole year if the period's level of economic activity continued.

Investment income was the major drag on the state, with $220 million less collected in stock dividends, interest and rent compared to the previous quarter. The value of stocks rose sharply during the quarter, however.

So this is mostly a reflection of what's happening with the very richest residents.

Earnings were down by .02 percent on the whole, with the biggest drop coming in finance and insurance. Health care wages grew the most, as the sector continues to add jobs. Manufacturing wages were second, partly from hiring, but mostly from a return to overtime pay.

Finance earnings also fell in New York, but even with the drop, finance earnings are 11 percent higher in Connecticut than they were in the first three months of the year.



NS affordable housing plan to get hearing;  North Stonington wrestles with issue of preserving town's rural character
The Day
By Claire Bessette
Published 11/30/2009 12:00 AM
Updated 11/30/2009 07:43 AM

North Stonington - For the past two years, town officials and residents have debated how to increase affordable housing in town while preserving the town's rural character.

That debate will be renewed Thursday, as the Planning and Zoning Commission holds a public hearing on plans for an 84-unit housing development on Route 2 that includes 56 apartments designated as affordable housing. The hearing is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, but would be moved to the North Stonington Elementary School multipurpose room if a larger room is needed.

The Meadowcourt development, proposed by V&M Construction, Inc. of Westerly, calls for 56 deed-restricted one-bedroom affordable apartments, 14 two-bedroom market rate apartments and another 14 second-story studio units above the two-bedroom apartments. The complex would also include a 6,000-square-foot community center that would have space for a farmers' market and convenience grocery store.

The 7.3-acre project would fall under the state law that governs affordable housing in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is deemed affordable. North Stonington has less than 1 percent.

According to the law, the town has limited review authority over affordable housing projects, said Juliet Leeming, North Stonington senior planner and zoning enforcement officer.

But she called the V&M proposal "a friendly 8-30g," referring to the number of the state statute.

Leeming said the developers have worked with town officials during workshops and in presenting preliminary plans, including a model of the proposed project, to try to alleviate concerns.

The 14 housing buildings would be arranged around a central square meadow or green. The community center building would be in front of the green and would face Route 2. Leeming said the original proposal called for the apartments to face Route 2 but the commission asked that they be arranged around the green.

"It complies with a lot of our regulations, except the density," Leeming said of the project.

V&M has applied for a zone change to place the property in an affordable housing development overlay zone and also seeks accompanying zoning text amendments to govern the zone. The commission must vote on the project based on health and safety issues, Leeming said.

North Stonington faced a similar proposal in late 2007 with the controversial 408-unit Garden Court affordable housing development on Boom Bridge Road. The commission rejected that plan and the developers appealed the decision in superior court. The economic recession intervened, and the plans and lawsuits were withdrawn.

But the controversy got town officials thinking about affordable housing and they formed the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. The committee has submitted a report outlining ways the town can improve its affordable housing stock.

Marilyn Mackay, the committee secretary, issued a press release last week that personally endorsed the Meadowcourt project. Mackay said the project makes sense for the town in that it provides a mixture of affordable and market rate units and a commercial component that could boost the town's agricultural base.

Mackay is a strong supporter of creating a year-round farmers' market that could house freezers and coolers to allow the sale of dairy products and even fish from the Stonington docks.

Mackay called the Meadowcourt project unusual in that it calls for 66 percent affordable housing rather than the state guideline of 15 percent.

"If qualified affordable housing stock does not soon become a town reality, we will see the likes of another 400+ apartment complex forced upon our town," Mackay said. "Except for health or safety reasons, we cannot prevent it."

But First Selectman Nicholas Mullane, said he is worried about the development density, traffic and storm water runoff. He said the town should require the developers to post a performance bond on the proposed on-site septic system to protect against possible failure in the future.

"I'm concerned about the project," Mullane said. "The density is significant, and there's an awful lot on eight acres of land."




Reverse mortgages growing in popularity, right choice for some Greenwich homeowners

Greenwich TIME
By Lisa Chamoff, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/08/2009 02:43:36 PM EDT

More than a year ago, Dee Lewis was struggling to afford her escalating property taxes, plus pay the mortgage on the small Glenville farmhouse where she's lived since 1982.

Lewis, now 64, had been considering a reverse mortgage, which allows senior citizens to tap into the equity of their homes, providing them access to money without the burden of monthly payments. The loan is repaid when the borrower sells the house or dies.  Last April, Lewis took the plunge, becoming one of a growing number of people to take advantage of the government-backed program.

Last month nationwide, there were 9,830 reverse mortgages endorsed by the Federal Housing Administration, which insures most of the loans. That's up from 9,484 loans endorsed in July of last year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In March, there was a national monthly record of 11,261 FHA-endorsed reverse mortgages, a jump of 17 percent from the same month in 2008.

Lewis borrowed about $230,000, a portion of which went toward paying off her mortgage and car. If Lewis were to sell her house now, she estimates she would owe about $200,000.

"If I pay both my property tax and my mortgage, I would have a couple hundred a month to live on," said Lewis, who works as a cook at Greenwich High School. "I really felt I didn't have any other option."

D. Steve Boland, senior vice president and reverse mortgage executive for Bank of America, said lenders have recently seen an increase in popularity in reverse mortgages because people's retirement accounts are losing money and people want to maintain their standard of living.  Also, as part of the economic stimulus package, the lending limit for reverse mortgages was increased from $417,000 to $625,500 through the end of 2009.

"Before, it was considered a last resort," Boland said. "Now, it's part of retirement."

Sara Cornwall, a Southport-based reverse mortgage specialist with Wells Fargo, said some people are taking out reverse mortgages to wait out the sluggish real estate market.  In order to qualify for a reverse mortgage, a borrower must be 62 or older, the home must be the person's primary residence and they must own the property outright, or pay off the existing mortgage with the proceeds from the loan.


Borrowers have four options, used in any combination, when taking out a reverse mortgage: They can take the money in a lump sum; get fixed monthly amounts for a set period of time; receive funds in equal monthly allotments for as long as at least one homeowner lives in the house; or have access to a line of credit.

Senior advocates say some people shy away from the program because they want to leave their home to their children. Lewis, a divorced mother of two adult daughters, said her children were supportive. In fact, Lewis' younger daughter lost her job earlier this year and moved back home, which she couldn't have done if Lewis had downsized to a one-bedroom condo.  Lewis had considered selling the house, which was valued at $1 million.

"I wanted to be there for my children," Lewis said. "In hindsight, I did do the right thing. Given the economy right now, if I had waited and put my house on the market, it wouldn't have been a good time."

There are also high closing costs involved, which include title insurance, attorney fees and an appraisal. They vary according to the value of the home, and can range from $15,000 to $18,000. Lewis's loan included $17,000 in fees.  The Federal Housing Administration, which insures most reverse mortgages, mandates that interested seniors receive financial counseling from a HUD-approved agency before getting the loan.

Should someone owe more than value of home at end of the loan, the FHA insurance covers that gap. Richard Fisher, an attorney who works in the elder law and estate planning field for Cacace, Tusch & Santagata in Stamford, said seniors should explore their alternatives, such as getting a home equity loan, which doesn't have the high fees of a reverse mortgage and generally has lower interest rates, or selling the house and moving to a smaller accommodation.

One concern is that some financial professionals have been aggressively marketing investments to seniors for their reverse mortgage proceeds, such as deferred annuities, that are inappropriate for many older people because they tie up retirement savings, but Fisher said none of his clients have run into that.

Christina Crain, director of programs for the Bridgeport-based Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging, has worked with seniors who have taken out reverse mortgages, and advises people to take a close look at their situation before going forward.

"I think people really need to do their homework, go and talk to multiple lending sources and do their own research," Crain said. "I think the important thing is people ask a lot of questions and know all the costs up front."

Reverse mortgages can be good for seniors who want to stay in their homes, and don't have family members to help financially support them, Crain said. But, they're not for everyone, such as seniors who want to leave their home -- without the burden of paying off the loan -- to their children or grandchildren. The loan also could affect a person's eligibility for need-based programs, such as Medicaid.

"It's really a personal decision," Crain said. "I think it is a good option for some people. I think people should at least explore it as an option because for some people it could be a way to remain in their homes and get the resources they need.



Old Saybrook ready, but housing rules are changing
DAY
By Jenna Cho

Published on 8/1/2009

Old Saybrook - Armed with a map, a new set of regulations and updated design standards, Old Saybrook stands at the ready for any affordable-housing applications that may come its way.

Old Saybrook adopted Incentive Housing overlay zone regulations on July 20, and with it, design standards to guide future developments under the zone. In doing so, the town was the first in the state to take advantage of a 2007 state law that provides towns with cash incentives for establishing affordable-housing friendly zones.

INCENTIVE HOUSING ZONE

Its purpose is to encourage affordable housing in both residential and business districts that have the transportation connections, nearby access to amenities and services, and infrastructure necessary to support concentrations of development. The IHZ seeks to avoid sprawl and traffic congestion by encouraging a more vibrant residential component to business or mixed use areas to sustain a lifestyle in which residents can walk or use public transportation to reach jobs, services, and recreational or cultural opportunities.

SOURCE: OLD SAYBROOK INCENTIVE HOUSING ZONE REGULATIONS, EFFECTIVE AUG. 17

But the whole incentive portion of the 2007 state law now stands in question in light of a state budget crisis.

”The money is limited,” said Jeffrey Beckham, undersecretary for legislative affairs at the state Office of Policy and Management. “We need to figure out how to apportion the money that we have left.”

Towns were encouraged to create Incentive Housing zones with the promise - or at least, pending the availability of funds - of $2,000 per affordable unit that could be built in such a zone upon adoption of the new regulations. OPM also has incentives for towns to get help writing the regulations, and later, for building permits obtained for new affordable housing projects.

The $2,000-per-unit calculation will be reduced to a yet-undetermined smaller incentive, Beckham said.

Towns can reapply for state review once OPM has reconfigured its incentive pay schedule, Beckham said. Until then, the state won't review any applications for Incentive Housing zones, including those of Wallingford, filed in April, and Old Saybrook, filed in May.

In all, 35 towns in the state have initiated the process of creating Incentive Housing zones, said Dimple Desai, community development director at OPM.

Affordable housing at Ferry Point

Unlike Wallingford, which according to Town Planner Linda A. Bush plans to wait for state review before adopting its Incentive Housing regulations, Old Saybrook has chosen to proceed without state approval.

”At the town level, we know that what we're doing is quality work,” Old Saybrook Town Planner Christine Nelson said.

The town was also mindful of local nonprofit HOPE Partnership's interest in building a 14- to 16-unit affordable-housing complex in town under Incentive Housing regulations. The project, which would be developed on town-owned land at 45 Ferry Road, is closely tied to First Selectman Michael Pace's push for “attainable” housing to diversify housing options in Old Saybrook.

Developing affordable housing under the town's terms became more than just a vision when the town purchased a 5.4-acre parcel of land from the state in January and proposed using the land for housing and recreational needs.  Ferry Point, where the site is located, is the first area the town has designated as an Incentive Housing zone. The town plans to build a multi-use ball field next to the complex.

HOPE, which would build and manage the 32-bedroom complex, is awaiting wetlands approval and plans to apply for zoning permits in the fall, said Maryann Amore, HOPE's executive director.  Amore applauded the work of town staff and officials to develop the new regulations and ensure the Incentive Housing Zone was in place so HOPE could move forward with its project.

The Incentive Housing Zone promotes affordable-housing developments in areas that can accommodate such housing - areas where business and residential units can co-exist and residents can have easy access to public transportation.  Housing developments under the zone must set aside at least 20 percent of their units as affordable units. Those units must cost the dweller 30 percent of their annual income or less, according to OPM's Housing for Economic Growth Program.

In creating the zone, the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission approved three things: regulations that dictate what uses are allowed in the overlay zone; design standards that specify how new developments in the zone should look; and a new zoning map that includes the town's first Incentive Housing zone, at the Ferry Point neighborhood, Nelson said.

Without the Incentive Housing Zone, towns without 10 percent of their housing stock designated as affordable face the possibility of a developer forcing an affordable-housing project on the town, Amore said.  That's because all the developer would have to prove under state affordable-housing laws is that the project won't harm public health or safety, she said. The town would have no say on how the project looked or where it was built.

”This law has more thoughtful, integrated planning for the town,” Amore said. “It just gives the towns a lot more control.”



CHFA Head Says Junk Mortgages' Effects Persist 
DAY
By Anthony Cronin 
Published on 6/30/2009

A housing official said Monday that effects of the subprime mortgage mess are still reverberating throughout the state's economy, but he held out hope that revved-up state and federal programs will be able to revive Connecticut's housing market.

Timothy Bannon, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (www.chfa.org) in Rocky Hill, told a housing symposium sponsored by Liberty Bank that “we know how the mess that we're in today began.”

Subprime lenders began to flood the housing market in late 2004, said Bannon, “offering loans that seemed too good to be true - and that's exactly what they turned out to be.”

Bannon said the “house of cards” subprime lenders created has been falling ever since. “They took advantage of the dream of homeownership and turned it into a nightmare of financial destruction and family destitution,” he told those attending the symposium at The Water's Edge resort in Westbrook.

He said subprime lenders concentrated their loans in lower-income neighborhoods with lower education levels. “The subprime lenders ... purposely took advantage of people who had too little education, too little experience and too much hope. They stole their money and they dashed their dreams,” Bannon said.

The housing official told those attending the bank forum - from affordable housing experts to bankers and municipal officials -that the impact of unscrupulous subprime lenders were not problems of their making, but they have impacted the banking, lending and municipal arenas.

The Rocky Hill-based CHFA works with lower income or disadvantaged borrowers, and its typical borrower makes less than $65,000 annually. Almost 40 percent of its borrowers are female heads of households. “But we make - you make and we buy - good loans,” he said of his agency.

Bannon congratulated Liberty Bank's financial performance this past year as well as its stellar lending reputation. “Liberty Bank is a Connecticut success story,” he added. Between 1992 and 2008, Liberty has originated nearly 600 CHFA loans totaling nearly $67 million. This past year, the Middletown-based mutual savings bank - the state's oldest - was among the housing agency's top 20 loan originators.

Bannon said several new federal housing initiatives, as well as new programs from Fannie Mae, the giant mortgage lender, are helping to restore some stability in the state's, and nation's, wobbly housing market.

He said his agency is working through numerous initiatives, including the CT Families mortgage-loan refinancing program, to help borrowers delinquent on their adjustable rate mortgages, along with the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program that provides financial assistance to help homeowners meet their monthly housing expenses.

Bannon also said free mortgage counseling provided by CHFA and a judicial mediation program are helping homeowners. He said these programs have made possible nearly 19,000 repayment and loan modifications to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. 



Another take on the issue...
Himes addresses affordable housing needs

Stamford ADVOCATE
By Elizabeth Kim,
Staff Writer
Posted: 04/14/2009 07:53:16 PM EDT

DARIEN -- U.S. Congressman Jim Himes on Tuesday addressed the need for affordable housing in the region's small and medium-sized towns.

Himes, D-Conn., was the keynote speaker at a housing summit sponsored by the South Western Regional Planning Agency.

"If we don't get this right, we will have a foundational virus that will erode the vitality of this region," Himes told a Town Hall audience of about 70 affordable housing advocates from across Fairfield County.

While larger state cities such as Stamford and Bridgeport have made inroads in building affordable housing, small and middle-sized towns have typically run up against community resistance to various forms of below-market-rate housing. Meanwhile, the lack of affordable housing options has been cited by businesses as an impediment for moving into the region.

Himes, a former affordable housing advocate, said that "political reality" in those communities made low-income housing -- targeted at individuals making less than 60 percent of the median income -- extremely difficult to achieve.

Smaller municipalities, he said, should instead focus their efforts on building housing for seniors and workers forced to commute there. He suggested looking at opportunities to develop land owned by local housing authorities as well as rehabilitating foreclosed homes. Himes stressed that the emphasis should be on downtown housing, close to transit hubs.

Based on the comments afterward from several affordable housing advocates in the audience, smaller communities often fear increases in density.

But Gordon Joseloff, Westport's first selectman, noted that mindset may very well be changing, as the recession affects a broader swath of residents who can no longer afford living in their homes.

"These economic times might be the economic opportunity to change people's mind," he said.



Town says affordable housing obligation met
Greenwich TIME
By Debra Friedman, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 03/29/2009 06:04:18 PM EDT

Town officials said they believe an obligation to build more affordable housing stemming from its 1989 purchase of the former Cos Cob Power Plant property has been met.

"We've gone back and looked at some of the work that has been done," said Town Attorney John Wayne Fox. "We are satisfied that over the last several years we have more than met our obligation in terms of housing and in terms of what we perceive to be the intent of that statute."

In 1989, Greenwich promised to build 24 affordable housing units in exchange for the 9-acre property, which it bought from the state for only $1. While initially the deal required the town to build the units on the property, concerns about toxins from the once-coal burning power station as well as the proximity to the Metro-North railroad resulted in a new agreement. The revised 1997 agreement required the units to be built elsewhere in town.

The decade-old issue came to the forefront after Greenwich resident and housing authority commissioner Bernadette Settelmeyer presented a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission in January asking what had become of the town's obligation to build the units.

Town officials largely ignored the issue since 1997, with most of the discussion about the property centered around creating a park on the land, which has been cleared of petroleum and other toxins.

Settelmeyer could not be reached for comment Friday.

Fox said that town role in funding additions at Hill House on Riverside Avenue and the Pathways facility on East Putnam Avenue, as well as renovations to Parsonage Cottage on Parsonage Road has satisfied the agreement.

Hill House is an affordable housing community for low- to moderate-income seniors, while Pathways is a nonprofit organization that helps people with mental illness. Parsonage Cottage provides 40 beds to the elderly and is run by the Greenwich Housing Authority.

"We think we have more than complied with the spirit and the letter of the law," said Fox.

First Selectman Peter Tesei said although he believes the requirement has been met, town officials will meet with members of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development.

"We want to review with them what the town experience has been with affordable units over the last several years and get clarification on what the requirement is," said Tesei. "It's still exploratory is in terms of understanding what the requirement is. Several administrations have looked at this and we want to bring closure to the issue."

Although the town believes the requirement has been met, town officials said they will continue to strive to find more opportunities to build additional affordable housing to meet the state's affordable housing mandate.

At least 10 percent of housing stock needs to qualify as affordable under state guidelines. The town's inventory of affordable housing is 5 percent, according to a 2008 state analysis.

Tesei said there have been private talks about incorporating more affordable housing units in the future.


Experts lament lack of starter homes, say state must act 
DAY
By Ted Mann 
Published on 1/23/2009

Hartford - Economists, state officials and housing experts convened Thursday morning to confront one of this state's most nagging dilemmas: a dearth of affordable housing, particularly for younger workers, that puts a serious drag on Connecticut's economy.

At the forum, co-sponsored by the nonprofit Partnership for Strong Communities and the state Department of Economic and Community Development, experts largely agreed that the state must do more to encourage the development of affordable housing to spur growth in the state work force and to keep in-state some of the residents who are currently departing in droves - namely young, college-educated adults.

”The younger you are,” said Andrew Sum, a labor economist from Northeastern University, “the more likely you are to have left.”

Multiple studies have shown that the failure to provide affordable housing, either for purchase or rent, is a major impediment to long-term job growth, said Bruce Blakey, an economist and the former chief forecaster for Northeast Utilities.

Connecticut residents spend an average of 47.6 percent of their income on rent and utilities, the seventh-highest such percentage in the nation, Blakey said.

The data was provided as a number of groups push for policies to encourage more housing development. Blakey provided figures showing that construction of 500 starter homes - at a cost of $262,500 - would produce 950 jobs per year and more than $60 million in disposable income.

But the obstacles to making such growth sustainable are serious ones, panelists warned, not least the price at which a family or individual in Connecticut can expect to find a starter home.

”The data is incontrovertible that housing is a stimulus to the economy,” said Robert Kantor, the New England director for Fannie Mae.

But cost is a problem, he added, when the state's median income hovers around $65,000 annually.

”Sixty (thousand) into $260,000 is four-plus, and that's totally unaffordable,” Kantor said. 
 



"Our opinion" - best presentation by Dr. Lapp (second from the left), who reminded everyone of how housing and population data relate to the meaning of "Our Town."

Westport Affordable and Workforce Housing Public Meeting, Monday November 24, 2008
A proposal to develop the Baron's South property for 72 units of housing (51 elderly) has been making the rounds, spearheaded by the First Selectman of Westport. E-Newspaper coverage below.  Meeting in the large auditorium at Westport Town Hall was well attended - members of the various Westport Commissions and Boards in the audience.  Sharp questions asked. 
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From WestportNow:


Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com
EARLY STORY (photo on right)
"Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff (r) and other officials tonight discussed the town’s conceptual plan for senior and workforce housing on the Baron’s South property. The session followed a similar presentation last week at the Westport Center for Senior Activities. Joseloff said he welcomed the public’s comments and suggestions and would be meeting with Representative Town Meeting (RTM) members, neighbors, and others who want to hear about the proposal and offer input."

Baron’s South Housing Plan Unveiled
WestportNow
By James Lomuscio
Posted 11/24 at 11:28 PM

Robert Corona of Foxfire Lane called the conceptual proposal to construct 104 affordable housing units on the 23-acre, town-owned Baron’s South property “environmentally irresponsible.
“If you’re a tree in Westport, Connecticut, you are an endangered species,” Corona said.

Gavin Anderson, the next to speak at tonight’s presentation and public hearing at the Town Hall auditorium, countered that the plan “was a good use of the land,” and minimally invasive.

“All the big trees are still going to be there,” Anderson said. “The plan maintains a great deal of open space.

“Philosophically, I feel it is right,” he continued. “We have to recognize the changing demographics of the town.”

And that is that the town is graying, and seniors who may not want or need large, single-family homes with high taxes are seeking alternatives to stay in town.

There is also the fact that many who work in town, from municipal employees to those employed at local businesses, need affordable housing.

The problem? Statewide, Westport, with median home price of $1.3 million, ranks third as least affordable community following Greenwich and New Canaan.

And if Westport doesn’t increase its affordable housing stock to 10 percent, the town could be ripe for a developer to sue, bypassing local zoning regulations, and put in huge, multi-family housing units.

Currently, the only existing, below-market rate senior housing are the 50-unit Canal Park, which has a three to five-year waiting period, and the 36-unit Saugatuck School.

These points were reiterated throughout the evening as First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff and members of his volunteer, Blue Ribbon panel hosted a presentation titled, “Baron’s South: An Opportunity for Senior & Workforce Housing.”

Joseloff plans to ask the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission in 2009 for a statutory requirement called an 8-24 for the project.

In addition to Joseloff, tonight’s panel members included: Laurence Bradley, director of the Planning and Zoning Department; Second Selectman Shelly A. Kassen; Carol Martin, director of the Westport Housing Authority; Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA); Terry Giegengack, assistant director of Human Services; Michele Frye, planning assistant; and Rick Redniss, principal of Redniss & Mead, which helped develop the conceptual plan for the project

“It’s a conceptual plan, and nothing is set in stone,” said Joseloff. “We need to talk.”

Joseloff stressed that the plan—which calls for 74 rental units of senior housing and 30 units of workforce housing—would have “minimum impact on the land and minimum impact on neighbors.”

He also said that the project would be financed by private, federal, state funding, “so there will be minimum impact on our economy.”

According to Kassen, 51 one- and two-bedroom senior units would be constructed in a building next to the Westport Center for Senior Activities, which opened almost four years ago, and another 23 units would be built through the renovation and expansion of the property’s old mansion.

The mansion and the property had once belonged to the late Baron Walter Langer Van Langendorf, the founder of Evyan Perfumes.

The workforce housing, which would be set on a ridge, would consist of 26, two- and three-bedroom townhouse units, Kassen said, and another four units through the renovation of four small houses on the property.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property, and I hope you take that into consideration as you are siting it,” said Stan Witkow of Foxfire Lane.

“I’m not a NIMBY (not in my backyard), and it certainly seems like something the town needs,” he added. “I just hope it doesn’t spoil the neighborhood.”

Bradley insisted that the project is designed to have the least environmental and aesthetic impact, adding that it would even utilize roads already on the property.

Alluding to Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” which ran in film form at the Westport Country Playhouse last week in tribute to Paul Newman, SWRPA’s Lapp said that the multigenerational towns of yesteryear are disappearing as seniors struggle to stay in their homes.

Meanwhile, he said 40 percent of the workforce commutes out of the area and the local 25- to 54-year-old workforce can no longer afford to live in the town.

“These are demographic dangers,” he said.

According to town housing survey results, approximately 60 percent of Westport’s seniors are considering moving due to the desire to downsize and the burden of property taxes, as well as health issues.

As he left the public hearing, Harold Levine, who said he spent many days walking the property as chair of a Baron’s South land use committee after the town bought the property in 1999, seemed bullish on the proposal.

“It’s right for the town, and it will happen,” he said.


Rell: Towns Will Receive Help Planning Affordable Housing
By LORETTA WALDMAN | The Hartford Courant
11:35 AM EST, November 11, 2008

The Capitol Region Council of Governments, a regional planning agency representing Hartford-area municipalities, has been awarded federal assistance to develop responsible growth strategies for affordable housing, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced.

CRCOG will receive direct technical assistance valued at approximately $45,000 from a team of national experts organized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Rell said. The largest of the state's 15 regional planning agencies, CRCOG has long been a proponent of the environment, social, and economic benefits of smart growth and will use the funds to enact "incentive housing zones" that encourage affordable housing development. CRCOG requested EPA assistance with technical policy analysis and public participation processes to develop and promote model smart growth regulations that include provisions for incentive housing zones in rural, suburban, and urban areas in the Capitol region.

"This assistance will help Hartford area towns promote a regional approach for combating sprawl," Rell said. "By developing zoning regulations based on responsible growth, we will be able to promote more affordable housing options in the greater Hartford area."

Other communities receiving the funding are Miami-Dade, Florida and New York City. Connecticut Communities represented by CRCOG are: Andover, Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, East Granby, East Hartford, East Windsor, Ellington, Enfield, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, Hartford, Hebron, Manchester, Marlborough, Newington, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, Somers, South Windsor, Suffield, Tolland, Vernon, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

One of the recommendations to come out of Rell's Responsible Growth Task Force last year was to develop models of smart grown zoning regulations that could be used by Connecticut's municipalities and regional planning organizations.

"If left unchecked, sprawl will continue to chop up the landscape and impair our ability to remain economically competitive," she said. "Responsible development ensures that we protect valuable natural resources at the same time we take important steps to grow and strengthen our economy."

More information about the communities receiving EPA smart growth technical assistance: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/sgia2008.htm .



Island of Lost Homes
NYTIMES editorial
Published: November 2, 2008

As the financial crisis crisscrosses the globe, mutating as it goes, it is important to remember the brownfield of bad American home loans that are its ground zero. The view is ugly, the effects dire and the need for solutions just as urgent whether you look in the stucco foreclosure tracts of Phoenix and Southern California, the condo-boom cities like Miami — or a birthplace of the suburban American dream, Long Island.

Long Island’s two counties, Suffolk and Nassau, are first and fourth in the number of loans at risk of foreclosure in New York State. Long Island was not supposed to be hit this hard, because of its affluence, highly desirable housing stock and relative lack of room to sprawl. But for lots of reasons distinctly its own, it was highly susceptible to the toxic fallout of the subprime bubble.

Long Island now has two housing crises, an acute new one laid over a chronic old one. The old one is a severe shortage of housing for regular people, in a market pathologically skewed by racial segregation and not-in-my-backyard resistance to responsible development.

Housing in the land of Levittown, the national symbol of affordable starter homes, has for years been out of reach to young couples and the working class. Thousands of Long Islanders of modest means, from young professionals to immigrant day laborers, are crowding into illegally subdivided single-family houses. Demographers have documented an exodus of people who grew sick of living in their parents’ basements, while retirees rattled around in empty nests, cash-poor but property-rich — at least until the mortgage meltdown.

For all that, there are few legal rental units, and efforts to build higher-density “smart growth” developments have been vigorously, often rabidly, opposed by communities wedded to the single-family house behind the white picket fence. McMansions have been eating up the island’s dwindling open space and farmland, while its downtowns and infrastructure wither from age and neglect.

To top it off, the island remains one of the most segregated suburbs in the country, designed from the days of its earliest tract homes to be a haven of white aspiration. For years, African-American homeowners were shunted to tightly bounded neighborhoods that became self-perpetuating pockets of poverty with severely underperforming school districts.

It is little wonder that within Long Island’s dysfunctional housing market, where more than half of residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, the lure of easy credit was irresistible. Mortgage lenders cajoled the elderly to plunder their equity, people in heavily minority areas like Hempstead Village, Amityville and Brentwood lined up for the subprime express, investors snapped up homes for illegal rentals, and trader-uppers in richer ZIP codes dived in over their heads.

Advocates who had struggled to get poor people into housing realized a few years ago that things were moving too fast. Peter Elkowitz, chief executive of the Long Island Housing Partnership, said people at the group’s home-ownership workshops would sometimes bristle at being told what they could not afford and take their business to storefront brokers who offered no-income-verification loans and the false promise that home values would keep rising forever.

Now it is all crashing down. The ranch homes have plywood picture windows, and front lawns sprout billboards for foreclosure auctions. The disaster is particularly acute in black and Latino communities, where subprime loans were advertised heavily. The Empire Justice Center found that the three Suffolk communities with the highest foreclosure risk — Amityville, Brentwood and Central Islip — are home to a full 30 percent of the county’s African-American homeowners. Nassau’s three hardest-hit areas — Hempstead, Freeport and Elmont — are home to 42 percent of its black homeowners.

The county executives of Nassau and Suffolk, Thomas Suozzi and Steve Levy, have ramped up services like debt counseling to keep the next wave of troubled homeowners from defaulting when their adjustable-rate mortgages reset next year. But the counties are struggling to keep their own budgets right-side-up in a wretched economy. New York State’s deficit is mountainous, and Mr. Levy and Mr. Suozzi expect to get hammered on aid from Albany, even as their own sales taxes and property-transfer taxes dwindle.

Crime is not up yet, but homelessness and hunger are. So is blight: town and village officials have their hands full keeping lawns mowed for a glut of abandoned houses. The bottom-feeders are out: “We Buy Houses,” read the light-post fliers in poor neighborhoods, offering fast cash for troubled homes. Brokers who shamelessly peddled subprime loans to unqualified buyers are now offering, for thousands of dollars in fees, to fix people’s credit, convert their loans and negotiate with lenders — the same thing nonprofit groups do at no charge.

This disaster was caused by a torrent of bad loans, but there has been only a trickle of the money and leadership needed from Washington, where the focus has been on bailing out banks before homeowners. At a training workshop at the Long Island Housing Partnership in Hauppauge last week, representatives of Citibank met with nonprofit groups to explore ways to repair mortgages so that families can keep their homes for the life of the loans, and not simply postpone inevitable foreclosures.

The emphasis was on realism and honesty in a world that jettisoned both. Participants agreed that a solution as big as the problem had not yet been devised. Lenders, homeowners and advocates are stuck with straightening out a colossal mess, one bad loan at a time.



Read study here that has some good ideas!
Funds could make foreclosed houses into homes
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Elizabeth Kim, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/26/2008 02:48:49 AM EDT

STAMFORD - Amid a spike in foreclosures, the city is eyeing an opportunity to ease the crisis and prepare for the next generation of low- and moderate-income homeowners.

A federal program allows eligible communities to buy foreclosed homes and resell them as affordable housing targeted to individuals who earn less than 120 percent of the area's median income. In Stamford, that figure translates into $140,000 a year.

In July, Congress passed a bill that included nearly $4 million in emergency federal funding for distressed regions nationwide. Of that amount, $25 million was allocated to Connecticut by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Redevelopment.

Stamford is one of 10 state municipalities vying for a slice of the state award. Other cities include Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury. HUD has mandated that all proceeds be divided according to need.

The city expects to submit an application to the state as early as January.

Mayor Dannel Malloy is cautiously optimistic about the city's chances. Compared with Bridgeport and New Haven, Stamford has had fewer foreclosures.

"I think we can make a case," Malloy said Friday, referring to seeking funds. "But someone else is going to decide if it's a good case."

One advantage for the city is its ability to quickly identify foreclosures, said Tim Beeble, director of the city's Community Development Office. Housing records at the town clerk's office are computerized in Stamford, making the task of identifying foreclosed homes easier. Those records are not available on computer in Bridgeport.   Of the 134 properties in Stamford that have gone to foreclosure since Oct. 1, 2006, 76 are owned by banks, according to the Community Development Office. Officials there are working to identify homes voluntarily transferred to banks by owners instead of going through foreclosure proceedings.

In all likelihood, the city would not own the properties. Instead, it would transfer ownership to nonprofit agencies such as New Neighborhoods Inc. that have experience in developing and rehabilitating housing for low- and middle-income families, Beeble said.  On Friday, Beeble and his staff looked at about eight foreclosed homes in the Cove and a dozen on the West Side. From the outside, they looked for signs of life, peering through windows and checking tags on meters to see whether the electricity had been turned off.

The federal program aims to revive or sustain existing communities. And Friday, Beeble kept his eyes open for properties that had an impact on the surrounding homes.

"Is the house clearly vacant, with overgrown grass? Is there blight bringing down the rest of the neighborhood?" Beeble said about signs of problems.

Although Stamford may not be selected to receive funding, the program has excited affordable housing advocates, including Kathleen Walsh, president and chief executive officer of the Stamford Partnership. Upon hearing about the HUD allotment, she contacted Beeble. If all goes as planned, Walsh's organization would enlist local neighborhood associations to help the city identify buyers.

"This is just one tool, but it's not a perfect tool," Walsh said. The program would not help people facing foreclosure, for example.

"But it will prove to be an effective tool in renovating homes and getting them reoccupied," she said. "It will be good for the individual, as well as good for the neighborhoods."



State housing market plunges
CT POST
ROB VARNON
Article Last Updated: 07/02/2008 12:59:53 AM EDT

Sales of single-family homes in Fairfield County plunged by 44.55 percent between May 2007 and May 2008, and prices statewide fell more than 10 percent during the same period.  The Warren Group, a Massachusetts-based real estate and banking industry research firm, said Tuesday there were 468 single-family homes sold in Fairfield County in May 2008, compared to 844 sold in May 2007.  The median price those sales brought in Fairfield County in May 2008 was $545,000, a 13.15 percent decline from $627,000 in May 2007.

"You've got economic gravity working against you," said Vincent Valvo, group publisher of The Warren Group's trade journals.

He said Fairfield County enjoyed some of the highest rise in prices and highest number of sales for several years, but now the buyers aren't there.  The median single-family home price in New Haven County dropped from $265,000 in May 2007 to $250,000 in May 2008. Sales were off 14.75 percent.

The Warren Group's report said Fairfield County's decline helped drive down the statewide median price of a single-family home from $305,000 in May 2007 to $272,000.  Despite a collapse in prices — the percentage levels are comparable to declines in 1992 — the median price for a home in Connecticut remains out of reach for many potential homebuyers, Valvo said.

In the early 1990s, housing prices fell in the state after years of overbuilding and a decrease in buyers in the wake of a large number of job losses.

Today, it's the lack of credit that's driving down prices and sales, Valvo said.  Lenders are not only reviewing borrowers' histories more closely but are also requiring down payments, usually of 10 percent, he said. 
That means to buy a $500,000 house, Valvo said, a buyer would have to be able to come up with $50,000 for a down payment. That doesn't include the $10,000 to $20,000 in legal fees, inspections and other costs that pile up as part of the transaction, he added.

Young couples just can't come up with that kind of money, Valvo said, so there are fewer consumers with the means to buy.

The statewide median is also high.

According to the U.S. Federal Housing Administration's mortgage calculator, a person would have to make $73,000 a year to qualify for a mortgage to cover the state median price for a single-family home bought in May. This is based on a mortgage rate of 6 percent with little outstanding debt. FHA recommends the monthly mortgage payment should not exceed 36 percent of income after subtracting for other debts and needs.

The median income in Connecticut, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was $63,422 in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available. Only in Windham County is the median sale price affordable for someone making the state's median income.

Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist of New Haven-based DataCorps Partners, said the real estate market, like the state and national economies, is a mix of good and bad news.

"It depends on which side of the equation you're on," Klepper-Smith said of falling prices. If you've already got your house, this is terrible news because your equity is being eaten up. If you don't have a house, it means you might finally get one you can afford.

Even though prices and sales fell at the highest rate since 1992, Klepper-Smith and Valvo said Connecticut's economy is in much better condition than it was then.  Connecticut gained jobs in May. That wasn't the case in 1992, Klepper-Smith said, when Connecticut lost 162,000 jobs in a recession.  So this is an economic storm the state can weather, Klepper-Smith said.

Condominium sales were likewise down in Connecticut in May.

According to The Warren Group, sales of condominiums fell from 1,338 in May 2007 to 854 in May 2008. The median sales price of a condo in Connecticut was $200,000 in May 2008, compared to $208,500 in the 2007 period.  The median price for a condominium in Fairfield County declined from $329,000 in May 2007 to $322,500. The number of sales dropped from 448 to 230 during the same period.  The price for a condominium in New Haven County was unchanged from a year ago, at $180,000.


State's Housing Prices Plunge In May
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN | Courant Staff Writer
10:54 AM EDT, July 1, 2008

The decline in the median sales price of single family houses in Connecticut gathered increased momentum in May, plunging by nearly 11 percent percent, the biggest drop since 1992 when the state was digging out of a deep recession.

The number of sales tumbled more than 24 percent in May, continuing a slide that is now in its third year, according to the Warren Group, which tracks housing markets in New England.

The report provided fresh evidence that the state's housing market, while not seeing the declines of harder hits states such as California and Florida, is still struggling with tighter credit making it tougher to get a mortgage and rising foreclosures that pull down the value of homes in surrounding neighborhoods.

Many economists say the housing downturn nationally -- and in Connecticut -- isn't likely to bottom out until well into 2009.

The state's median sales price, where half the sales are above and half below, was down 10.8 percent, to $272,000, from $305,000 a year ago. Hartford County fared better than the state as a whole, with median prices slipping 4 percent, to $234,900, from $244,900 a year ago. Sales in Hartford County plunged nearly 23 percent.

"Clearly, this downturn is showing no signs of relenting, and without a pickup in sales, it could be more severe than the last one," said Timothy J. Warren Jr., chief executive of Warren.

Affluent Litchfield and Fairfield counties took the brunt of the price declines.

In Litchfield County, the median sales price of a single family house plunged 17 percent in May to $250,000, from $302,000 a year ago. Sales plummeted nearly 31 percent.

Fairfield County saw the median sales price fall 13 percent in May, to $545,000, from $627,500 a year ago. Sales plummeted 35 percent.

Only one county, Tolland, showed a gain in May, rising 6 percent, to $267,500, from $252,250 a year ago, even as sales fell 21 percent.


Two affordable housing projects win approval in Stamford
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Magdalene Perez, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 06/30/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

STAMFORD - The row houses at 178 Ludlow St. in the South End are peeling, warped and boarded up.  But, if all goes as planned for nonprofit developer New Neighborhoods Inc., in about two years, 50 affordable apartments could be raised in their place.

The Ludlow Place project, which would include a cluster of colorful five-story townhouses, is one of two nonprofit affordable housing plans the zoning board approved last week. The other, organized by Habitat for Humanity, will construct an eight-family residence on a vacant corner of West Main Street.

Both groups plan to help modest-income people become home-owners, some for the first time.  The projects demonstrate the fast pace of change in the South End and other neighborhoods as the city uses policy to encourage affordable housing development.

"The whole place is looking like a transformation from what it used to be," said Cladric Davis, 56, a former South End resident. "It seems like some progress is going to take place."

The Ludlow street apartments are at the center of the South End transformation. They are next door to a granite plant and two blocks from the shiny offices and immaculate lawn of Harbor Park. To the north, Antares, a Greenwich developer, plans to build an office, housing and retail complex on more than 80 acres.

New Neighborhoods said it hopes to sell all 50 of the apartments as affordable housing. That means buyers who earn less than 80 percent of Stamford's median income, or about $93,600 for a family of four, are eligible, said Ross Burkhardt, president and chief executive officer of New Neighborhoods.

The group would like to see at least 50 percent of the homes go to those with an income from $45,000 to 75,000, Burkhardt said. There is no minimum income requirement, although potential buyers must be "reasonably" able to secure financing from a bank.

"We've made a commitment to the neighborhood that our project in the South End is going to be affordable home ownership," Burkhardt said. "Our objective is really try to help support people who are having a hard time finding housing in Stamford."

New Neighborhoods still needs to secure financing for the project, so it could be as long as two years before it is finished, Burkhardt said. State grants and money donated from for-profit developers in lieu of creating affordable housing elsewhere are two potential sources.  On the West Side, the Habitat for Humanity project will complete the redevelopment of a block where the Mutual Housing Association of Connecticut unveiled 19 affordable condominiums in 2003.

Those who would like to become homeowners through Habitat for Humanity must earn less than 50 percent of the area's median income, or about $58,500 for a family of four, said Arthur Blanchard, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County. The program requires new homeowners to work 500 hours of "sweat equity" before they buy the homes at a 0 percent interest rate.

Three applicants have been selected for the West Main Street address, Blanchard said. Construction should begin by the fall, and the project, depending on the number of volunteers, is expected to be finished next year.

Many more applicants are expected than there is space. Once applicants are vetted, New Neighborhoods likely will hold a lottery to select applicants, Burkhardt said.

Elizabeth Kemp of Bridgeport experienced the benefits of gaining a home through the Habitat program.

When Kemp moved to Connecticut from Mississippi a few years back, she stayed with her parents and four children in a cramped two-bedroom condominium in Norwalk. Now, she lives in a 1,340-square-foot three-bedroom duplex.

"Going from that to where we are now is a blessing"
said Kemp, 47. "It really is a big difference for us. It's improved our lives."

Home Not-So-Sweet Home
NYTIMES
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: June 23, 2008

“Owning a home lies at the heart of the American dream.” So declared President Bush in 2002, introducing his “Homeownership Challenge” — a set of policy initiatives that were supposed to sharply increase homeownership, especially for minority groups.

Oops. While homeownership rose as the housing bubble inflated, temporarily giving Mr. Bush something to boast about, it plunged — especially for African-Americans — when the bubble popped. Today, the percentage of American families owning their own homes is no higher than it was six years ago, and it’s a good bet that by the time Mr. Bush leaves the White House homeownership will be lower than it was when he moved in.

But here’s a question rarely asked, at least in Washington: Why should ever-increasing homeownership be a policy goal? How many people should own homes, anyway?

Listening to politicians, you’d think that every family should own its home — in fact, that you’re not a real American unless you’re a homeowner. “If you own something,” Mr. Bush once declared, “you have a vital stake in the future of our country.” Presumably, then, citizens who live in rented housing, and therefore lack that “vital stake,” can’t be properly patriotic. Bring back property qualifications for voting!

Even Democrats seem to share the sense that Americans who don’t own houses are second-class citizens. Early last year, just as the mortgage meltdown was beginning, Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who is one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, warned against a crackdown on subprime lending. “For be it ever so humble,” he wrote, “there really is no place like home, even if it does come with a balloon payment mortgage.”

And the belief that you’re nothing if you don’t own a home is reflected in U.S. policy. Because the I.R.S. lets you deduct mortgage interest from your taxable income but doesn’t let you deduct rent, the federal tax system provides an enormous subsidy to owner-occupied housing. On top of that, government-sponsored enterprises — Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks — provide cheap financing for home buyers; investors who want to provide rental housing are on their own.

In effect, U.S. policy is based on the premise that everyone should be a homeowner. But here’s the thing: There are some real disadvantages to homeownership.

First of all, there’s the financial risk. Although it’s rarely put this way, borrowing to buy a home is like buying stocks on margin: if the market value of the house falls, the buyer can easily lose his or her entire stake.

This isn’t a hypothetical worry. From 2005 through 2007 alone — that is, at the peak of the housing bubble — more than 22 million Americans bought either new or existing houses. Now that the bubble has burst, many of those homebuyers have lost heavily on their investment. At this point there are probably around 10 million households with negative home equity — that is, with mortgages that exceed the value of their houses.

Owning a home also ties workers down. Even in the best of times, the costs and hassle of selling one home and buying another — one estimate put the average cost of a house move at more than $60,000 — tend to make workers reluctant to go where the jobs are.

And these are not the best of times. Right now, economic distress is concentrated in the states with the biggest housing busts: Florida and California have experienced much steeper rises in unemployment than the nation as a whole. Yet homeowners in these states are constrained from seeking opportunities elsewhere, because it’s very hard to sell their houses.

Finally, there’s the cost of commuting. Buying a home usually though not always means buying a single-family house in the suburbs, often a long way out, where land is cheap. In an age of $4 gas and concerns about climate change, that’s an increasingly problematic choice.

There are, of course, advantages to homeownership — and yes, my wife and I do own our home. But homeownership isn’t for everyone. In fact, given the way U.S. policy favors owning over renting, you can make a good case that America already has too many homeowners.

O.K., I know how some people will respond: anyone who questions the ideal of homeownership must want the population “confined to Soviet-style concrete-block high-rises” (as a Bloomberg columnist recently put it). Um, no. All I’m suggesting is that we drop the obsession with ownership, and try to level the playing field that, at the moment, is hugely tilted against renting.

And while we’re at it, let’s try to open our minds to the possibility that those who choose to rent rather than buy can still share in the American dream — and still have a stake in the nation’s future.


Rise in Renters Erasing Gains for Ownership
NYTIMES
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
Published: June 21, 2008

WASHINGTON — Driven largely by the surge in foreclosures and an unsettled housing market, Americans are renting apartments and houses at the highest level since President Bush started a campaign to expand homeownership in 2002.

The percentage of households headed by homeowners, which soared to a record 69.1 percent in 2005, fell to 67.8 percent this year, the sharpest decline in 20 years, according to census data through the end of March. By extension, the percentage of households headed by renters increased to 32.2 percent, from 30.9 percent.

The figures, while seemingly modest, reflect a significant shift in national housing trends, housing analysts say, with the notable gains in homeownership achieved under Mr. Bush all but vanishing over the last two years.

Many of the new renters, meanwhile, are struggling to get into decent apartments as vacancies decline, rents rise and other renters increasingly stay put. Some renters who want to buy homes are unable to get mortgages as banks impose stricter standards. Others remain reluctant to buy, anxious that housing prices will continue to fall.

The confluence of factors has largely derailed what Mr. Bush called “the ownership society,” his campaign to give millions of people — particularly minority and lower-income families — a shot at homeownership by encouraging lenders to finance more home purchases.

“We’re not going to see homeownership rates like that for a generation,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com, a research company.

For many minority and lower-income families who viewed homeownership as a stepping stone to building wealth and passing it on to their children, the transition from owning to renting has been the unraveling of a dream. Burdened now by debt and bad credit, some of these families are worse off than they were before they bought.

“The bloom is off of homeownership,” said William C. Apgar, a senior scholar at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University who ran the Federal Housing Administration from 1997 to 2001. “We’re seeing more dramatic growth in renters and a decline in the number of owners. People are beginning to understand that homeownership can be a very risky venture.”

Mr. Apgar said the Joint Center had predicted an increase of 1.8 million renters from 2005 to 2015, given expected population trends. Instead, they saw a surge of 1.5 million renters from 2005 to 2007 alone. In the first quarter of this year, 35.7 million people were renting homes or apartments, census data show.

“Even though we’re only looking at a short period, these trends are pretty powerful,” Mr. Apgar said.

Mr. Zandi said he believed that minority and lower-income homeowners had been hardest hit. Nearly three million minority families took out mortgages from 2002 to the first quarter of this year, housing officials say. Since minority families were more likely to receive subprime loans, economists believe these families account for a disproportionate share of foreclosures.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said that officials had hoped the homeownership gains would stick. “We’re disappointed that conditions in the housing market didn’t allow those gains to be sustained,” he said. “But we’re optimistic that they can return.”

The new renters include people like Tina Williams, a 43-year-old medical assistant who lost her three-bedroom colonial in Cleveland to foreclosure in March after her adjustable rate mortgage spiked and she struggled to find work.

Ms. Williams slept at a homeless shelter and at the homes of friends after five apartment complexes rejected her, citing her bad credit and history of foreclosure.

Finally, someone offered to rent her the third floor of their house. Her new $300-a-month rental has a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom, but no kitchen.

“People say, ‘Tina, how are you living?’ ” said Ms. Williams, who has cobbled together the semblance of a kitchen with a microwave, a minirefrigerator and an electric frying pan.

“I say, ‘I’m living on God’s grace and mercy,’ ” said Ms. Williams, who had dreamed of passing on her first home, bought in 2001, to her two grown daughters.

“My daughter says I’m living in a hole in the wall,” she said. “But I can eat every day. I have a roof over my head. When I found this place, I started shouting for joy.”


Nationally, rents have increased about 11 percent since 2005, when homeownership rates started to decline, though that growth is slowing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2005, vacancy rates for rental properties in Cleveland hovered around 10 percent, according to the Northeast Ohio Apartment Association, which represents landlords in the Cleveland area. Today, the rate stands at 5.2 percent.

Christopher E. Smythe, the association’s president, said the collapse of the housing market had improved the economic climate.

“Our apartment traffic is up, people are renting again and occupancies are up,” he said in a letter to members this year.

In other places, like Los Angeles, the slump in the housing market has begun to push up vacancies as condominiums are converted into rentals, according to Raphael Bostic, the associate director at the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California.

But those new apartments are often out of reach of struggling families. And since many owners of rental properties are also going into default, the foreclosure wave has resulted in fierce competition for affordable apartments in some cities.

In Rhode Island, 41 percent of the state’s foreclosed properties are multifamily dwellings, which would most likely have housed tenants, a recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded.

“We’re seeing the displacement of tenants at the same time that we’re seeing former homeowners enter the rental market,” said Raymond Neirinckx, a coordinator at the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission, which handles housing policy.

Meanwhile, some people who have lost their homes find that landlords view them with suspicion.

Steve Allen, 51, a Vietnam veteran in Seattle, was repeatedly rejected when he and his wife, Lesa, started searching for an apartment this month. Some apartment managers said no because they had lost their home to foreclosure. Others said their credit scores were too low.

Debbie Suber, 46, who lost her home in Cleveland last year, said she and her husband were lucky to find a landlord who was willing to consider their income, not their credit scores. “By the grace of God, that’s why I have a place,” she said.

Times are also tough for renters hoping to buy. Banks have tightened mortgage standards, insisting on good credit scores, proof of income and sizable down payments. Lez Trujillo, the national field director for Acorn Housing, a nonprofit group that helps lower-income families get mortgages, said a third of their applicants ended up with houses just a few years ago. Now, it is one in 10, she said.

Barbara O’Leary-Hatfield-Liberace, a 68-year-old retiree and an Acorn member, encountered such difficulties when she and some friends decided to buy a $340,000 house in Seattle.

The mortgage company they consulted said they needed to clean up their credit and come up with a $45,000 down payment, money they do not have.

So on most nights, when Ms. O’Leary-Hatfield-Liberace thinks about her dream house, she reaches for the rosary that she keeps under her pillow.

“I pray a lot and hope to heck we’ll win the Lotto,” she said.


HUD plans changes to vouchers 
By Angela Carter, New Haven Register Staff
Thursday, June 19, 2008 

Proposed changes to federal fair market rent standards could send rent prices down for subsidized units in New Haven and some surrounding towns, while communities along the Shoreline and in Naugatuck Valley could see prices rise.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has released its fair market rent projections for fiscal 2009 year, which starts Oct. 1. The agency is accepting public comments on the proposed changes through Aug. 1...

Through its Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly referred to as the Section 8 program, HUD covers rent — with utilities included — for privately owned apartment units. Some property owners who rent out single-family houses also accept HUD vouchers.

Subsidized public housing units are owned by housing authorities, not private landlords.

New Haven County is one of 368 counties across the country that might see prior boosts to fair market rents reverse moderately, partly because of successful efforts to geographically deconcentrate the areas where housing voucher holders live, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, D.C., organization that advocates for affordable housing.

Jeffrey Freiser, executive director of the coalition’s affiliate, the Connecticut Housing Coalition, said that as rents continue to rise in the private market, families with vouchers that decline in fiscal 2009 could have a tougher time finding apartments.

“Someone with a Section 8 voucher is limited by the FMR (fair market rent) in the units they can secure,” Freiser said. “A lower FMR means there are fewer apartments available to you.”

The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New Haven would go down from $1,142 per month, with utilities included, to $1,101 per month under HUD’s projections.

That would also apply to rental units in 14 surrounding towns.

“Costs keep rising, so it’s not good news,” said Douglas Losty, president of the Greater New Haven Property Owners Association.

Landlords, he said, are facing rising insurance and utility costs and tax increases.

But heading east along the Shoreline, rents would rise. In Clinton, Killingworth, Old Saybrook and Westbrook, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment would increase from $1,064 per month to $1,104 per month.

In the Naugatuck Valley towns of Ansonia and Seymour, and in the city of Milford, a two-bedroom unit would jump from $1,075 per month to $1,113 per month.

Kristine Foye, spokeswoman at HUD’s New England regional office, said rent projections are based on the U.S. Census Bureau American Housing Survey, and random telephone surveys of renters in the FMR statistical areas.

“The rents are based on households who have moved into their units in the past 15 months,” she said.

The fair market rent rates also apply to HUD’s Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy Program, which provides rental assistance for homeless people.



Town pays the price for limited housing options
Greenwich TIME
By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 06/10/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

Scarce affordable housing for public employees is costly for the town, according to the United Way of Greenwich.  It costs taxpayers millions of dollars in extra salary, creates high turnover and cuts into education and other town services, according to a newly released housing study by the charitable agency.

"The lack of affordable and diverse work force housing options jeopardizes the quality of life and key services that Greenwich residents value," the study said. "It could ultimately transform a community that values its cultural and economic diversity into a homogenous town accessible only to the wealthy."

The study of the town's 5,545 employees showed that 67 percent of them live outside of town and spend an average of an hour and a half commuting to work, adding to traffic woes and increased automobile pollution throughout the region.  Cathy Delehanty, president of the Greenwich Education Association, which represents town teachers, said the lack of affordable housing affects every town employee.  Although she was happy the problem was getting attention, she said it was hard to envision that the town could create large amounts of affordable housing with land values being so high.

"The type of salaries we are earning do not allow us to avail ourselves of the housing in town," said Delehanty, of Stamford. "I'm happy that they are looking for solutions."

Having nonresident employees is costly, too, with the town paying an average $12,896 in extra salary per worker each year compared with those in similar jobs in other Connecticut towns. The incremental price tag is almost $18 million annually.

United Way Executive Director Stuart Adelberg said the town can use a range of strategies to tackle the problem of affordable housing for its workers, including incentives and requirements for developers that have worked elsewhere. Strategies could include inclusionary zoning, regulations that require developers to set aside a certain number of units for lower-income tenants and density bonuses, which allow developers to build more units in return for adding affordable housing units to their projects.

"There are a lot of affordable housing developers who would love to come into this community but are unable to because of the economic reality," Adelberg said.

Other conclusions and statistics in the study include:

* While Greenwich employees earn more than their counterparts around the state, a lack of affordable housing in town forces many employees to move on when they tire of making long commutes, the study said.
* The average town employee uses 455 gallons of gasoline driving to and from work each year, costing about $6.8 million (at $4 per gallon) for the town's 3,743 out-of-town workers.
* Those 455 gallons translate into more than four tons of carbon dioxide per non-residential employee emitted into the atmosphere, the study said.

A 2006 community-needs assessment by the United Way identified affordable housing as a critical need for the town.  Adelberg said the agency also was completing an addendum of the study looking at communities that have successfully used zoning regulations and other strategies to broaden their stock of housing, including Stamford and Montgomery County, Md.  Hopefully, the study will spur more organized efforts to create affordable housing in Greenwich, Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149th District, said after the presentation.

Floren said Stamford is an example of a community that has used density bonuses and other zoning changes to spur the development of affordable housing.

"We need a plan and coordination and accountability to get this done," Floren said. "We know for a fact that this is a pressing need."



Housing summit wants affordable housing process streamlined
Norwalk HOUR
April 30, 2008

Once frustrated, area property developers are hoping the state will hand out affordable housing subsidies faster and more efficiently than before.

Developers have long bemoaned the slow pace of claiming state money; the two agencies that handle the funding require separate applications and operate on different schedules. A document in its draft stages would consolidate the process by combining applications to the Connecticut Housing Finance authority and the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

"I hope it's the beginning for an ongoing, stronger and more unified approach to how we do affordable housing development in the state," said Diane Randall, a finance authority board member and president of Partnership for Strong Communities, an advocacy group for housing solutions.

Randall was the keynote speaker at a summit on affordable housing Tuesday in Stamford, hosted by the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA). The summit aimed to encourage more developers and municipalities to build affordable housing.

"We're trying to present to them financing that's available to them and projects they can do," said Benjamin Henson, regional planner for SWRPA.

Affordable housing is available to families whose annual income is less than 80 percent of either the state or area's median income, whichever is lowest, and costs no more than 30 percent of that family's earnings.

Under state statutes, cities and towns should designate 10 percent of their dwellings as affordable, but there is no penalty for failing to do so. In Fairfield County, only Norwalk and Stamford have met the requirement, Henson said.

Subsidies are an essential piece of affordable housing, because otherwise the cost of construction is just too great, said Larry Kluetsch, executive director of the Mutual Housing Association of Southwestern Connecticut. The nonprofit agency is the developing partner for Wilton Commons, a proposed affordable housing facility for senior citizens.

But Kluetsch and other area developers said the path to sufficient funding is lengthy and adds unnecessary costs.

"As a taxpayer it ticks me off, and as an affordable housing provider it makes my life miserable," he said at the conference.

Kluetsch in a later interview lauded the new applications for funding, but said the toughest part of the deal is actually getting the money in hand. It often takes years, he said, but could not explain why. Construction usually starts before the money is in hand, but meanwhile, interest rates raise the cost.

"It would be great if we don't have to pay interest on the construction loan," Kluetsch said.

A representative for the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Because of the slow funding process, affordable housing costs 20 percent more to build in Connecticut than in other states, said Kenneth Olson, president for POKO Partners, the developer of Wall Street Place in Norwalk.

"The longer you make me wait to get through the process, the more expensive it is and the harder it's going to be to make it affordable," Olson said.




Homeless ejected from bridge area
Norwalk HOUR
April 23, 2008


A group of homeless people living under a bridge on Cross Street were awakened at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday to the sound of bulldozers revving and state Department of Transportation workers ordering them to leave.

Five people who had been living under the bridge for the past two to five months were evacuated, a resident of the squatter community said.

But not all the squatters were willing to go.

On Tuesday afternoon, two Norwalk police officers were sent to the area because a man and woman remained.

"I just got up. I was woken out of a dead sleep," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "They were like storm troopers."

The man said he had been living under the bridge since the winter and that he was ordered to leave by Norwalk police officers on April 11.

The woman, who also asked not to be identified, is a Norwalk native. She said most of the group left Tuesday morning. With tears spilling down her face, she looked out over the deep tracks left in the mud by the bulldozers.

"The shelters are full, so there's no place to go," she said. "They just came down here and bulldozed everything and said, 'You got to move.' Where am I going to go tonight? That's my main concern. What am I supposed to do tonight? Walk the streets? Hide?"

The homeless group had stockpiled canned goods, containers of water, stuffed animals, tents and a mattress, most of which were cleared away by DOT workers after the area under the bridge was bulldozed, she said.

The homeless woman said she had been bringing food to the bridge for her companion before she too became homeless and joined the group herself.

"I've been here for only a couple of weeks," she said. "My father died three and a half weeks ago, and he was sick, so prior to that he lost the house because he couldn't pay on the mortgage. I've been homeless now for two weeks."

Officer Tim Sheehan said he was sent there to speak to the pair because the DOT had called and reported they were loitering.

"We just told them they had to go because they were on private property," Sheehan said.

According to police spokesman Lt. Paul Resnick, the Norwalk Police Department contacted the DOT a few weeks ago because the bridge and the area under it are state property.

The pair said they had done nothing wrong, and the man asked the officer if he could have lunch before clearing away a tent he had managed to salvage.

"We can't even sit here. We are not hurting anyone. We aren't doing anything wrong. This is so not fair," the woman said. "Do you think I am here by choice? I have nowhere else to go."

Resnick did not know whether police had received any complaints about the squatters from the community. A manager at a restaurant and bar adjacent to the bridge said he has seen the group there during the past two months when parking his car.

"They never bothered anyone," he said. "I actually kind of felt good that they were there. I think their presence there keeps the crime down in the parking lot because people can see them, and they are less likely to break in to cars."

Phil Johnson, an employee at the Norwalk Emergency Shelter, said the shelter had been crowded all winter, but that the crowded conditions are lessening. He said the
shelter has never turned people away during his time there.

"There would be space available for (the squatters)," he said. "Even when we are full, we have an overflow section where we put people for whom there is not space in the regular shelter. We put mats and things for them to sleep on down."

Despite repeated efforts, the DOT did not return phone calls for comment.

"Things float away," the man said, describing the way the onrush of thawing water would take his possessions. "Now it's all gone."




Area rents are tops in nation
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Monica Potts

Article Launched: 04/08/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

Stamford and Norwalk have the most expensive rents among metropolitan areas in the United States for the second year in a row, according to a national affordable housing advocacy group.

The study, released yesterday by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, found that the hourly wage required to afford a market-rate, two-bedroom apartment in the Stamford and Norwalk area is $31.58, nearly double the national average and about five times the federal minimum wage of $5.85 an hour and four times the state's minimum wage of $7.65 an hour.

In a preface to the study, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., wrote that the crisis in the housing market should not distract from the problems low-income renters face.

"Affordable housing opportunities, both homeownership and rental housing, help to stabilize families and strengthen communities," Dodd wrote. "Unfortunately this year's report . . . shows that the gap between the wages of low-income Americans and their housing costs continues to widen."

Nearby areas, including Long Island, N.Y.; Westchester County, N.Y.; and Danbury also were in the top 10.

Connecticut as a whole required a wage of more than $20 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment, making it the seventh most expensive state.

The wages were calculated using figures on housing costs compiled annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rents are considered affordable if they are no more than a third of a household's income.

"If we don't provide more housing for people who are making good incomes but still can't afford a rental unit, it's going to be a big problem," said Ross Burkhardt, president and chief executive officer of New Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit affordable housing developer in Stamford.

Stamford has tried to increase the number of affordable housing units, Mayor Dannel Malloy said. The city requires developers of residential buildings with 10 or more units to rent or sell 10 percent of them at rates affordable for families who meet certain criteria, or the developers must make a donation toward creating affordable housing units.

"We've allowed much more housing to be built than would have been built under zoning rules 40 years ago," Malloy said. "We have an affordable requirement, we put money into making housing affordable, and we work with nonprofits."

It's not just a Stamford problem - it's regional, the mayor said.

"We're doing something, as opposed to everybody else," he said.

The news is not all bad, Malloy said.

"You wouldn't suddenly want to become the least expensive place to live, because it would not say something good about your economy," he said. "You want the right balance, and at least in our area, Stamford is trying to reach that balance."

In Stamford, the average market price for renting a one-bedroom apartment is $1,548 a month, said Phil Caruso, president of the Stamford Board of Realtors.

Some of the cheapest rents for a one-bedroom on the market now are around $1,200 a month, and the renter can expect to pay another $200 a month for utilities, Caruso said. A few listings on Craigslist.org show one-bedrooms for $900 or $1,000.

The highest market prices now are about $2,500 a month, he said.

The average market rental price for a two-bedroom apartment in Stamford is $2,181 a month, he said.

In Norwalk, the average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,369 a month - about $180 less per month than in Stamford, Caruso said.

The average price for a two-bedroom apartment in Norwalk is $2,093 a month, he said.


And an earlier AP report...
Fairfield, Norwalk top national list of expensive rentals 

DAY
Posted on Apr 8, 7:58 AM EDT

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A national survey shows that Stamford and Norwalk have the most expensive rents among metropolitan areas in the United States for the second year in a row.

The report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that the hourly wage required to afford a market-rate, two-bedroom apartment in the Stamford and Norwalk area is $31.58.

That figure is nearly double the national average and about five times the federal minimum wage of $5.85 an hour. It's four times the state's minimum wage of $7.65 an hour.

Connecticut as a whole required a wage of more than $20 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment, making it the seventh most expensive state.


High Cost Of Renting Taking Toll In Region; Report: Earn $17.81 an hour or be priced out of the market 
DAY
By Lee Howard    
Published on 4/8/2008 


Derek Ellis, a 27-year-old Iraq veteran, remembers paying $395 a month for a nice apartment in North Carolina five years ago. Now he has to scrape together $889 a month to rent a two-bedroom unit at the Peachtree Apartments in Norwich.

“My wife and I don't go anywhere,” Ellis said in a phone interview Monday. “We're lucky to go out to dinner once a month. I haven't been to a movie in two years. At the grocery store, basically everything is generic and off-brand.”

Such is the life of renters in the Norwich-New London area, who must earn at least $17.81 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, according to a report issued Monday by the Connecticut Housing Coalition.

The group also pointed out that the average wage of local renters is only $14.11 an hour.

Put in other terms, New London County families can comfortably afford a monthly rental of $734 but must somehow stretch their salaries to pay $926 for a moderately priced two-bedroom apartment. The numbers assume only one wage earner per household.

For families earning minimum wage, this would mean having to work nearly two-and-a-half full-time jobs, stated the annual report, titled “Out of Reach,” which was prepared by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“Since the year 2000, the cost of a two-bedroom apartment has gone up 40 percent,” said Jeffrey Freiser, executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition.

Freiser admitted that recent softness in the rental market related to foreclosures has started driving down some housing costs, but he doubted the impact would be large enough to help working families much.

While none of the affordable-housing proponents mentioned landlords as being part of the problem, Ira Turner, a patent attorney who owns three buildings in Norwich, pointed out that high taxes, costly insurance, expensive maintenance and protracted procedures in Connecticut's small-claims court contribute to keeping rents high, as does the skyrocketing cost of oil for some whose heat is included in their rent.

“When you combine competition from distressed real estate, the fact that many tenants are wise to the fact that landlords have little recourse to (make) debtors (pay), and the price of energy, do you really think rents are too high?” he said in an e-mail. “As a landlord, I think the idea of rent being too high is nuts.”

Statewide, renters account for 404,000 households. Nearly a quarter of renters — 97,000 — spend more than half their income on housing. The situation in eastern Connecticut isn't quite so bad: Of the 70,617 renter households in the Second Congressional District, 9,312 are considered to be severely stretched on their rental costs.

“These people are this close to being homeless,” said David Fink, policy director for the statewide Partnership for Strong Communities.

The need for affordable housing goes to the core of local communities, which must find people to fill healthcare, public-safety and education positions, among others, Fink said. He added that estimates indicate that nearly three-quarters of all new jobs created over the next six years will pay $40,000 or less, in today's dollars.

The “housing wage” — an amount a person would have to earn to afford a moderately priced apartment using only 30 percent of wages — puts nearly half of Connecticut's occupations below the threshold of having sufficient income to afford an apartment, according to the coalition.

“Young adults are leaving Connecticut because they can't afford to live here,” said Freiser. “Businesses decide not to come to Connecticut because their employees can't afford to pay the rent or buy a home. We need housing that's affordable if we want thriving families and a growing economy.”

“It's Economics 101; it's strictly a factor of supply and demand,” said Fink of the housing market. “The bottom line is that the only way you solve this huge problem is to create more supply.”

To that end, Fink's organization helped push the HomeConnecticut program through the state legislature last year. The program gives financial incentives to municipalities that allow mixed-income developments that require at least 20 percent of units to be affordable, and so far New London, Montville and East Lyme have bought into the program locally, according to Fink.

A similar program in Massachusetts has resulted in more than 7,300 units of affordable housing being built, he added.

Connecticut is the seventh least affordable rental housing market in the country overall, and the Stamford-Norwalk metropolitan area is the most expensive market in the country with a housing wage of $31.58 an hour. More rural regions of Connecticut rank the state as the fifth least affordable for renters.

The Connecticut Housing Coalition used the report to launch a renewed call for a National Housing Trust Fund. The U.S. House passed the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act.

“The National Housing Trust Fund is exactly the shot in the arm that we need now, as the economy worsens,” said Freiser. “Housing activity is a powerful economic stimulus, and families urgently need help with their housing situations.”

Jane Dauphinais, director of the Southeastern Connecticut Housing Alliance, said she believes some municipalities have seen the light. East Lyme is currently building work-force housing on Hope Street, she pointed out, and Montville is moving in the right direction as well, thanks to its planner, Marcia Vlaun. Stonington and North Stonington are working on affordable-housing plans too, she said, and Waterford remains open-minded.

“The subprime (mortgage) issue is only exacerbating the need for rental housing,” she said, as people with foreclosed homes re-enter the apartment market.

While some people seem to think rental housing and higher densities will add to already overburdened school systems, Dauphinais said this is not true. It takes 25 one-bedroom apartments to add a single child to the school system, and it takes four two-bedroom units to make the same impact, she said.

“Towns need to identify sections in town where higher density is a positive,” Dauphinais said.

As an example, she said, Groton has recently identified four mixed-use zones that would be appropriate for residential construction.

Any solution, added Fink of the Partnership for Strong Communities, must take into consideration the “not in my backyard” mentality spawned by previous failed experiments in affordable housing, such as the warehousing of low-income people in projects. Until people get past the incorrect impression that crime and declining property values go hand-in-hand with affordable housing, Fink suggested, nothing will get done.

“The problem we have,” he said, “is this morass of myths we have to work through.”

 


New York and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis
NYTIMES
By Sewell Chan
April 2, 2008,  1:19 pm

Confused about the turmoil roiling mortgages and the housing market? You’re not alone. A group of experts discussed the subprime mortgage meltdown on Tuesday evening at the Museum of the City of New York. Their pronouncements were sobering — many New Yorkers have been and will remain at risk of defaulting on their mortgages and having their homes foreclosed upon — and the worst may not yet be over. A summary of the discussion follows.

Constance Mitchell Ford, a 23-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal who is now the newspaper’s real estate editor, moderated the discussion. She made comparisons between the mortgage crisis and the junk-bond crisis of the late 1980s:

I actually came to New York 20 years ago to cover the meltdown of the junk-bond market, which some people would say is the corporate equivalent of the subprime market. It was a way for companies that didn’t have particularly good credit, or maybe they were very young — this provided them with opportunities to grow and expand. To this day I will never forget some of the letters I would get from consumers who had their entire life savings in junk-bond mutual founds and lost it all or at least a good chunk of it.

Ms. Mitchell Ford, in her opening remarks, expressed the hope that the subprime mortgage market will survive — with reforms:

There needs to be a way for people who don’t have pristine credit to buy homes. However, any future subprime market has to be substantially different than what we’ve had in the past. People can argue that we need more regulation, more truth in lending, less predatory lending — there are a lot of things that need to change the market, but at the end of the day, I’m one of the people who feels and hopes that something happens that brings this market back...

Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist and reporter for The New York Times, spoke last.

“How did we come to the precipice so quickly?” she asked. “How did we quickly find ourselves at the edge of the cliff?”

To a large extent, “people did what they were expected,” with one exception, as she explained the roles of the major players in the crisis:

Wall Street. “Innovation is a Wall Street specialty. … It is what makes our capital markets run very smoothly and the envy of the world, but in this particular case, Wall Street really sowed the seeds of this problem when it created this pool of mortgages that really did a lot to take away from the due diligence that naturally would have occurred when banks made loans to borrowers in the old-fashioned sense of the word. What replaced it was a process of really almost a factory line of producing pools of mortgages, the more the merrier.”

Investors. “They were willing to pay for these loans, to buy them without a care for due diligence and whether or not due diligence was done. They were looking for yield and found it it in spades. They were eagerly buying these securities without knowing what was in them.”

Rating agencies. “Aiding and abetting this, of course, were the rating agencies, how were charged with analyzing these complex securities, to try and tell investors whether they were risky and not risky, or whether parts were risky, and grading them. These rating agencies fell down on the job considerably because, as it turns out, their computer models, their predictions, their assessments for what was going to happen with these loans, for what percentage of them were going to be money-good, were found to be extremely wrong and lacking.”

Regulators. “I would really reserve most of my dismay for the regulatory structure that fell down on the job. Wall Street is supposed to generate securities that generate fees and investments that people want to buy. Investors are also supposed to want to get the best possible returns. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, regulators are supposed to regulate, and the absolute laxity that the regulators approached the subprime problem with, from the very outset, is appalling. I think it’s a very, very unfortunate aspect of this. Really, the regulators were the dog that did not bark in this entire scenario. A lot of it was perhaps a bit predictable, but no one I think saw that this was going to have the ripple effects this was going to have — including the demise of Bear Stearns.”

Ms. Morgenson added that a single institutional solution to the problem — like the Resolution Trust Corporation that was created to buy assets of failed savings and loans in the late 1980s and early 1990s — is simply not available this time.

“Any solution to this problem really must be done one by one, one mortgage at a time,” Ms. Morgenson predicted, noting that multiple parties — homeowners, investors who own mortgage-based securities, loan servicing companies and law firms that represent the servicing companies — all have a stake in the outcome.

“There’s a cast of characters and their interests are not necessarily aligned,” she said. “It is a really big mess.”


Housing crisis begins to hit suburbs
ROB VARNON and KEN DIXON newsroom@ctpost.com
Article Last Updated: 02/27/2008 01:19:56 AM EST

Like mold enveloping a house, the foreclosure crisis is spreading out beyond the state's urban centers, such as Bridgeport, and starting to eat away at the fabric of suburban communities.

January foreclosures in Connecticut continued to rise, according to RealtyTrac.com, propelling the state into the top 10 nationally based on rate of filings. The California company, which tracks foreclosure filings across the country, released its monthly report Tuesday.

In Hartford, majority Democratic lawmakers said they're considering legislation, which has yet to be written, aimed at creating a wide-ranging mortgage assistance program.

"Too many people have been caught in this mortgage crisis and are finding they cannot afford to keep up payments on their homes," Speaker of the House James A. Amann said.

"If the rate of foreclosures continues to escalate, thousands of families and our economy stand to suffer," said Amann, D-Milford.

Connecticut, at number eight, helped round out RealtyTrac's top 10 list, which now includes some of what, until recently, were the hottest real estate markets of the last decade — Nevada, California, Florida, Arizona and Colorado. There were 3,697 foreclosure actions taken in Connecticut in January, according to RealtyTrac.

The majority of the activity in Connecticut came in the initial filing stage, when the lender files a court case after the borrower defaults, with 2,882 cases filed in January. There were 531 notices of foreclosure sale issued and banks took 284 properties last month.

This is not the first time Connecticut has been in the top 10. In April 2007, Connecticut had the third-highest foreclosure rate in the nation and it remained in the top 10 in May and June before falling off the top of the list in July. The difference between Tuesday's RealtyTrac report and those from 2007 is where the foreclosures took place. In 2007, the foreclosures were happening in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford. Now, those white-and-black auction signs are popping up more frequently in suburbs like Fairfield and Milford as well as Stamford.

Just two months ago, RealtyTrac data showed that 657 families living in 14 Connecticut municipalities were in preforeclosure, which means they were delinquent and a foreclosure filing was imminent. Those 14 cities and towns represented a cross-section of Fairfield County and other cities and towns in the Bridgeport area.

Tuesday, there were 2,100 families in those same communities who had entered preforeclosure. The bulk of the distressed families in these 14 communities remain in Bridgeport, which accounts for about 40 percent of the homes in preforeclosure, but the numbers in other communities have doubled and tripled in just two months.

Many proposals are beginning to surface to combat the problem. Some call for more stringent lending standards, while others propose creating government-backed lending programs that will buy mortgages and refinance them through a new government agency. U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has proposed this at the federal level, while Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is backing a state version.

During a Feb. 13 press conference in Hartford, Blumenthal was critical of the state's efforts to help residents who have already fallen into foreclosure. Then, he cited the Connecticut Housing Financial Authority's dismal record after Gov. M. Jodi Rell directed it to offer aid. The CHFA, he said, was disqualifying families who did not have good credit and the program has only been able to help about two dozen families.

In reaction to the Democratic proposal, Rell, a Republican, on Tuesday told reporters that funding restrictions within the CHFA, such as federal guidelines, could limit the extent it is able to assist homeowners.

Speaking to reporters in her Capitol office, Rell said lawmakers should craft a bill that would protect the state if homeowners can't meet the terms of mortgage support.

"Is it going to be credit worthy for us to be able to loan money out?" Rell said. "You want to protect those investments so that you're not losing funds and you're at least administering it in such a way that the people who qualify will, in fact, pay off that loan."

Rell said more announcements about mortgage relief will be made this week.

"We can and will be doing more," she said. The legislation will be the subject of a public hearing Thursday morning in the General Assembly's Banks Committee. According to RealtyTrac's Tuesday report, the national pace of foreclosures is slowing.

RealtyTrac said foreclosure filings ticked up 8 percent from the December-to-January period, well off the 19 percent pace from the same period last year. Filings in January 2008 were up 57 percent from January 2007, the company said.

The new proposals follow in the wake of a slew of programs unveiled by private lenders and state and local governments during the last year. Local action groups and some economists are among those criticizing these programs, essentially saying they're too little, too late.

That includes the Bush administration's agreement with major lenders to make more of an effort to contact borrowers who are in default before filing a foreclosure action.

But groups like the Association of Communities for Reform Now told the Connecticut Post in previous interviews this does nothing but delay the date people get thrown out into the street. And Tuesday, the head of RealtyTrac wondered the same thing.

"The big question is whether those efforts are truly helping owners avoid foreclosure in the long term or if they are just temporarily forestalling the inevitable for many beleaguered borrowers," RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James Saccacio said.


Study cites decline in affordable housing along 'Gold Coast'
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Doug Dalena, Staff Writer
Published August 22 2007

STAMFORD - Despite efforts to close the gap between residents' income and housing costs, it continues to widen, a study published yesterday reported.

The study of the supply and demand for affordable housing - published by the South Western Regional Planning Agency - found that eight southwestern Connecticut cities and towns often nicknamed the "Gold Coast" have become more gilded since 1996, when a similar study already targeted affordable housing as a significant problem.

The supply of government-regulated, moderately priced housing decreased from 1998 to 2006, according to the study, even as housing prices shot up and job growth attracted more residents.

Harrell-Michalowski Associates, the Hamden planning firm that produced the study, examined statistics from Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton. The statistics include the number of housing authority apartments, federal vouchers to subsidize rents in privately owned buildings, units with deed restrictions on their rent or sale price and private homes with mortgages guaranteed by the state or federal governments.

The region's supply of government-regulated affordable housing units dropped by 11 percent from 1998 to 2006, though much of that drop came with the demolition of the Stamford Housing Authority's Southfield Village complex. The crime-riddled, crumbling complex was replaced by a lower-density, mixed-income development seen as a showpiece of the federal government's HOPE VI revitalization program, which replaces outdated public housing.

Since then, Stamford has passed an ordinance requiring developers of multifamily housing to include affordable units in each project. The ordinance was passed in 2003, but units created under it have just begun to be occupied in the past two years. According to statistics from Stamford's land-use bureau compiled in July, about 85 units have been built, with another 47 under construction. Another 200 have been approved, but not built.

"I'm pretty satisfied with what we've been doing," Mayor Dannel Malloy said.

Stamford's own affordable housing study, completed in 2001, found the city needed 8,000 affordable homes to keep up with job growth.

Still, the strides made in the past several years have set the stage for much more affordable housing production, according to Joan Carty, executive director of the Housing Development Fund, a nonprofit affordable housing lender and advocacy group.

"The delivery . . . is going to be really much easier now that the infrastructure is in place," she said.

That includes inclusionary housing ordinances such as Stamford's and one passed by Norwalk in January, increased participation from banks in affordable housing lending and a recent focus by state and regional leaders on creating more housing near transit centers, something the new SWRPA study recommends.

"Higher density, which is considered such a bad thing in some parts of the county, is actually considered more acceptable in transit hubs," Carty said.

At the same time, the astronomic rise in the area's housing market has eroded the supply of affordable rental and owner-occupied homes

Based on 2000 U.S. Census figures, the authors found that only 14.4 percent of homes in the region's towns were affordable for purchase to families making about $82,000 - 80 percent of the area's median income for a family of four.

For those earning half the median income - $51,000 - only 2.6 percent of the market-rate housing stock was considered affordable, meaning people at that income level would spend 30 percent or less of their income on housing.

The percentages were higher if a family could move from one town to another within the region, but the housing market's gains have erased even those opportunities, the study found.

Since 2000, housing prices have essentially doubled in Greenwich, Norwalk and Stamford, but incomes have risen much less - about 13.5 percent for the region. Sales price increases for all eight towns studied rose 74 percent for single-family homes and 73 percent for condominiums.

The study attributed the overall shortage of government-regulated assistance to a reduction in government spending on affordable housing, combined with increased land and construction costs in the urban areas near mass transit and already densely developed areas where the authors said affordable housing makes the most sense.

"There's just not enough money to build affordable housing, that's why it's not being built," Malloy said. "The two levels of government - state and federal - which were responsible for building affordable housing for the last 70 years, have largely withdrawn from the market place.

"For communities that don't want to build it to begin with, that becomes a great excuse."


Malloy acknowledged that the reconfiguration of Southwood Village taught the city lessons about replacing subsidized housing. The Board of Representatives passed a one-for-one replacement ordinance after criticism that the replacement, Southwood Square, created fewer units than the original complex. It requires construction of one affordable unit for every government-subsidized unit that is torn down.

The reduction that the study attributes to the Southfield Village replacement does not account for the fact that a large percentage - Malloy estimated about 15 percent - of the complex was vacant because so many apartments were uninhabitable.

"Do I feel bad about Southwood? The answer is no," he said.

The study also made direct connections between the shortage of affordable housing and the area's transportation gridlock. As jobs increase in Stamford and Norwalk, workers have had to travel farther to get to their jobs because housing production has not kept pace with job growth.

The report recommends local and state leaders evaluate 22 areas in the eight municipalities for more dense development. The areas are either near existing train stations, in areas that are served by bus routes or could be, or are already more densely developed than surrounding areas.

The study recommends state and local governments pursue density bonuses and other incentives for developers to create affordable housing in those areas.

Other recommendations include SWRPA becoming an affordable housing information clearinghouse in its role as the region's main intergovernmental planning agency, and urging lenders to create more flexibility in mortgages so home buyers can borrow more within acceptable limits.

Carty urged caution on increasing the percentage of household income that lenders allow to go toward mortgage and housing costs, saying that was part of the problem that has led many less-qualified borrowers into default in the current subprime mortgage crisis that has roiled the stock markets.

"You don't want people one paycheck away from disaster," she said.

Instead, lenders should consider 40-year mortgages, which spread out payments for much longer. Buyers don't build equity as fast, she said, but they can afford much more home in an expensive market.

- The study is available on SWRPA's Web site, www.swrpa.org.




Statistics Suggest Problems In Future For Connecticut; Glimpse of state's population in 2030 shows aging, segregation 
DAY
By Karin Crompton   
Published on 5/16/2007
 
For the next 25 years, Connecticut's population will keep getting older and more segregated, a state data center concludes in projections released today.

The state will have fewer working-age people to support the glut of baby boomers who will retire, and the state's minorities will continue to be concentrated in a handful of urban areas while the rest of Connecticut remains predominantly white.

Also, if not for an influx of foreign-born immigrants — other than Hispanics — the state's population would shrink rather than grow. The state's population growth, the center reports, is ranked among the lowest in the country and puts the state at risk of losing seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The baby boomers didn't have enough kids to support them in retirement, is what it boils down to,” said Orlando Rodriguez, manager of the Connecticut State Data Center, which released the projections today. “We need to make up the shortfall somewhere.”

The Connecticut State Data Center, created in 2006, serves as a liaison to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state uses the data to create public policy and to decide where to spend money.

Rodriguez, who said the information should ideally be published every three to five years, said the information was previously collected by the state Office of Policy and Management, which outsourced the job to the Center. The population projections haven't been updated in 12 years.

The Center uses a figure called a “dependency ratio” that takes 100 workers and calculates how many people are dependent upon them. There is a ratio for children and one for the elderly (those over 65).

The combination of the two is called a “total dependency” ratio. In Connecticut, that number is projected to rise from 67 people dependent upon every 100 workers in 2005 to 96 for every 100 in 2030.

Rodriguez looked up some figures for southeastern Connecticut.

“Whoa!” he yelped over the phone, clicking on the town of Lyme. Its total dependency ratio is projected to reach 110 by 2030 — every 100 working people in Lyme will have to support 110 retirees.

But these are statistics, after all.

“This is a wealthy retirement community, so that may not mean anything,” he said.

Overall, the state is projected to gain just three new residents for every 1,000 existing residents annually until 2030. Locally, the numbers foretell much the same. New London County's total population is projected to grow at a rate of 0.02 percent by 2030, down from 0.20 percent in 2005.

Some of the more startling projections include:

• Sprague's median age, which was 43.2 in 2005, will climb to 65.9 in 2030

• Waterford's population drops from 18,303 in 2005 to 16,758 in 2030.

• East Lyme, considered a hub for 55-and-older housing, is projected to see a decrease in the population's median age, from 43 in 2005 to 40.7 in 2030.

Rodriguez is quick to point out that the projections are different from predictions.

“We look at the past and we do not take into account anything that will happen in the future,” he said. “It's not an economic forecast — if the (sub) base closes, they put in an Ikea, build 100 houses ... It's not like that.”

Rodriguez said the data represents “one scenario. This may happen, not that it will happen.”

•••••

The Center groups the state's 169 municipalities into five categories: rural, suburban, urban core, urban periphery and wealthy. The definitions for each category come from a combination of population density (people per square mile), median family income and the percentage of the population that falls under the poverty threshold.

Rodriguez concedes that the classifications are dated and need updating. He said they were done three or four years ago and are based on information from the 2000 Census.

That could explain why East Lyme is grouped in the rural category while Salem falls into suburban. Rodriguez looked up the figures and said East Lyme's population density is too low to be categorized as suburban and its income is too high for the rural classification.

“You could say it's in transition,” he said.

New London is the only southeastern Connecticut city classified as an urban center. Norwich and Groton are both considered urban periphery. Extremely high population density is the primary characteristic for the category, according to the Center.

While race was not used to determine categories, the Center concludes that the state's minorities are most concentrated in the urban centers, or “urban core” towns.

While the urban core classification accounted for 19 percent of the state's population in 2000, the Center reports, more than half of the state's blacks and Hispanics lived there. At the same time, more than half of the state's white population lived in towns that were at least 90 percent white.

Statewide in 2000, 78 percent of towns were at least 90 percent white.

“I think one of the leading misconceptions is that Connecticut is a racially diverse state,” said Rodriguez, who moved here from New Orleans in 2002. “People say a quarter of the population is minorities and it's the same nationwide. That may be true, but that quarter is limited to seven towns in the state. So our minorities are segregated.”

The population projections can be seen at ctsdc.uconn.edu/Projections-Towns/townList-css.html.

The town listings by category can be seen at ctsdc.uconn.edu/Projections-Towns/towns_5groups.html.


Affordable Housing: Developer Seeks Zoning Amendment For District In North Stonington
DAY
By Jenna Cho
Published on 4/23/2007

 
North Stonington — Garden Court LLC, of Woodstock, has proposed a zoning text amendment to create an affordable housing district in town.

The application for the district, to be called the “Housing Opportunity Development Overlay District,” will likely go to a public hearing in July.  The town's zoning enforcement officer, Craig Grimord, said the April 13 application is the first affordable housing district proposal he has seen in his five years working for the town.

“This district is adopted to assist the Town in complying with the State Zoning Enabling Act ... by adopting zoning regulations that encourage multi-family dwellings and promote housing choice and economic diversity, including housing for low and moderate income households,” the proposed text amendment reads.

The application includes the text amendment as well as plans for the development of Garden Court, a complex that would include 123 affordable units — the 30 percent mandated by state statute.

The development is proposed in the easterly side of town, north of Interstate 95 and west of Boombridge Road. It would consist of 17 four-story residential buildings with 408 one- and two-bedroom units, recreational amenities and at least 15 percent of the site set aside for open space.

The development would have its own well water and an on-site sewer system.

Because the proposed district would be an overlay district, approval of the text amendment “would not override the provisions of the underlying zone until approval of a final site plan for an affordable housing development consistent with (the state statute).”

Timothy Bates, the attorney for Garden Court LLC, stated in a memorandum that only 0.58 percent of North Stonington's housing units are deemed affordable by the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is deemed affordable by state law are subject to provisions of the law. If such town rejects a project that includes affordable housing and the developer appeals, the town must prove the reason it rejected the application outweighs the need for affordable housing in the community.

The application includes a “Garden Court Affordability Plan,” which defines how affordability will be “administered and maintained,” outlines the application process for obtaining an affordable unit and identifies maximum rent calculations. Garden Court's sole principal is listed as Stephanie A. Marcotte, of Woodstock.

 

COG to Fund Affordable Housing Position 
DAY
By Karin Crompton
Published on 4/18/2007

 
The regional Council of Governments voted unanimously this morning to pick up the cost of benefits and serve as supervisor to a person whose full-time role will be to promote affordable housing throughout the region.

Members of the COG said the move makes business sense but also, with COG in charge, it is a symbolic gesture representing a regional approach to the issue.

The COG will sign a memo of agreement with the Southeastern Connecticut Housing Alliance to help it in hiring an executive director for that organization.
SECHA also needs to approve the arrangement, though COG Executive Director James Butler said the group has already granted preliminary approval.
The hope of both organizations, which work together, is that a better benefits package will help lure a strong candidate to the area.

Under the arrangement, SECHA will assume the costs of salary, social security and unemployment taxes, which total about $80,000 annually. The COG will pay for retirement, health, long-term disability and life insurance at a cost of about $23,000 yearly.

Butler said COG can use reserve funds to pay for the position the first year and that an anticipated increase in state aid should cover the cost afterward.
SECHA has tried twice before the fill the position, first on a part-time basis and then with a full-timer whose tenure was short-lived.

 

Build Working-Class Housing; Connecticut policies shut out many workers from dream of one day owning their own homes. 
DAY editorial  
Published on 4/1/2007

 
The state cannot afford unaffordable housing.

A recent two-day series in The Day points out that the price for rental housing is too costly for many working people. The situation is far worse when it comes to home buying.  Based on the premise that a person should spend no more than one-third of a paycheck on housing, a full-time worker needs $14.23 an hour, about double the state's minimum wage, to cover the average cost of a modest one-bedroom apartment.

In reality, many families are spending half of their income, or more, to pay the rent.

According to state Department of Labor statistics, many of the fastest growing jobs in the state do not pay people enough to afford even a modest apartment. On average, a retail salesperson makes $13 an hour; a cashier, $9.67; a food service worker, $9.37; a security guard, $11.86; a home health-care aide, $12.50, the data say.  Such working people have to combine two and three salaries to afford a decent apartment. Rising energy and health-care costs make matters worse.

The traditional ladder to home ownership has been to rent an apartment for a time while saving for the down payment on a home. But with the median price for a home in the Norwich-New London region at $258,000, and with potential first-time buyers spending every penny just to pay the rent, the rungs on the ladder are far too high for many people.

This inequality between what many people make and what apartments cost to rent is a product of old-fashioned supply and demand. There are many more people in need of affordable apartments than there are apartments available.  In a free market, developers should be rushing to meet this demand by building more affordable units. But that requires dense development, meaning more units per acre to minimize land costs.

The problem is, most towns currently have zoning regulations that discourage multifamily construction. Instead regulations encourage construction of large homes on huge lots of two, three and more acres. What dense development is allowed is typically restricted to senior housing communities for people 55 and older.  The cynical message this sends is that towns don't want young, working-class families unless they make enough to buy one of those big homes.

It is a strategy that is turning our picturesque countryside with its forests and farms into McMansion-dominated subdivisions and big-box retail shopping centers. Higher-income residents are concentrated in suburban towns, those with lower incomes live in depressed city neighborhoods.  Connecticut, and this region, cannot afford to stay on this course. To grow and expand, a healthy economy needs a diverse work force. When young families flee to other states where they can afford to live, businesses will be sure to follow. It is a recipe for economic decline.

Dilemma of generating revenue

Town leaders say restrictive zoning policies are a matter of government economics. Affordable, working-class housing brings more children into a community. And more children mean higher education costs and higher property taxes or cuts in other services. Multifamily and other forms of affordable housing do not come close to generating the tax money to cover the education expenses.

A proposal now before the legislature — “An Act Concerning Housing for Economic Growth” — seeks to address that dilemma. It would encourage towns to create “Housing Incentive Zones” with dense development — defined as six single-family units per acre; 10 duplexes per acre; or 20 apartments per acre – and with at least 20 percent of the units priced for families at 80 percent of median income or below.

This would not be public housing, but rather private housing driven by market forces. This housing would make the most sense where there is already sewer and water services to support it. It holds the potential to revive former mill villages and breathe life into town centers.

In return for providing the opportunity for needed housing, towns would receive immediate incentive payments, up to $7,000 per unit, followed by annual payments for up to 15 years for every child who moved into the incentive zone housing. The state payments would cover any net additional education costs the town incurs because of those students.

As with any legislation, details need to be worked out, but the plan provides a framework for reversing a troubling trend. When combined with Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposal to make the state a true partner in the cost of educating our children, it could again make Connecticut a place that welcomes young, working families



Affordable Housing Topic of Summit
WestportNow
By Jennifer Connic
Posted 12/12 at 11:03 PM

Experts and residents discussed affordable housing tonight at a Westport Town Hall meeting and many agreed that they know what is needed to garner support to move forward to erect such housing.

For almost three hours, experts suggested ways to provide more affordable housing and responded to audience questions and comments during what was billed as a “Citiizens Summit on Affordable Housing.”

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who organized the meeting, said affordable housing is an issue of paramount concern.

“We need to constitute it in a manner that is in a good location and that is of a density that is good for the neighborhood,” he said.

David Fink, policy and communications director for Hartford-based Partnership for Strong Community, said there has been an increase in the number of communities where those earning the median income cannot afford the median priced housing.  In 1994, it happened in 102 out of 169 cities and towns in Connecticut, he said, and in 2005 it was happening in 157 cities and towns.

While workers could be drawn from other communities to a wealthier community like Westport, he said, that is less likely to happen today.  There are no starter homes any more, Fink said, and builders are constructing housing for senior citizens and large McMansions.  Land costs are high, he said, so it is not financially viable to build a starter home.

Floyd Lapp, South Western Regional Planning Agency executive director, said there should be a model where zoning regulations require 20-25 percent of units in a project to be restricted to be affordable.  Additionally, there should be zoning bonuses to permit higher density when a developer proposes affordable housing, he said.

Modular homes should be used because they would cut down on construction costs, Lapp said, and developments should be transit-oriented and located within a five to 10 minute walk from a train station.  Accessory apartments should be legalized, he said, and there should be multi-family homes that are in the style of townhouses and rowhouses.

Westporter Ross Burkhardt, president and CEO of New Neighbors, Inc., a Stamford-based nonprofit community development corporation, said the parking lots at office developments are empty at night.  Those areas should be used for housing to share parking, he said, because one of the biggest problems in construction of affordable housing is finding adequate parking.

Rick Redniss, president of the Stamford-based land planning and consulting firm Redniss and Mead, said the edges of places like corporate parks are good places for affordable housing.  Part of the problem is that when land becomes available, it’s hard for a community to react and buy it and set up housing, he said.

“By the time they can do something, someone in the private sector can swoop in,” Redniss said.  Several audience members complained that while there have been many suggetions on ways municipalities can succeed in constructing affordable housing, it hasn’t been done.

David Press, a Planning and Zoning Commission member, said that when running for office people often ask questions about affordable housing at the candidate forums.  Despite the questions, however, the same problems still exist, he said.

“We need the will to move it along,” Press said. “It’s frustrating because we pass the zones and then there are no bricks and mortar.”

Joseloff said while there was a lot of talk about the issue tonight, he would like to see action taken.


Affordable Housing Summit Panelists Named
WestportNow
By Jennifer Connic
December 2, 2006

Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff has announced details of a “Citizens Summit on Affordable Housing” on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.

The meeting, which will be televised live on the town’s government access channel 79, will include a panel discussion with four experts on housing issues as well as an opportunity for audience comment and questions, he said.

The first selectman had earlier disclosed plans for the meeting but did not name the participants. (See WestportNow Nov. 20, 2006)

“I invite all Westporters and others to educate ourselves on how we can address the pressing need for affordable housing for seniors, young people, first-time homebuyers, and moderate-income earners including our police officers, firefighters, teachers and other municipal workers,” Joseloff said.

“With so much attention focused on the issue recently in Westport, I thought it vital for us to begin a community dialogue to explore potential solutions to this critical need. It is imperative that Westport develop new affordable housing units on our terms and on locations we select.”

The panel will be moderated by Steven Daniels, chair of the Joint Housing Committee of the Westport Human Services Commission, and include:

--Ross Burkhardt, president and chief executive officer of New Neighbors, Inc., a Stamford-based nonprofit community development corporation that develops affordable housing. Burkhardt is a former member of the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission and the Westport Housing Authority.

--David Fink, policy and communications director for the Hartford-based Partnership for Strong Community and its advocacy group, Homes Connecticut. These organizations support the creation of more affordable housing in Connecticut through education, outreach, and advocacy.

--Dr. Floyd Lapp, executive director, South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) in Stamford. Lapp earned his doctorate in urban planning from Columbia University where he is an adjunct professor of transportation planning. He has more than 40 years experience in planning, development, and transportation issues at all levels of government.

--Rick Redniss, president of Redniss and Mead, a Stamford-based land planning and consulting firm. He served on Connecticut’s Blue Ribbon Commission to Study Affordable Housing and has been involved in a number of Westport affordable and supportive housing issues.
Posted 12/02 at 01:09 PM


Affordable Housing Topic of Westport Conversations
WestportNow
By Jennifer Connic
November 20, 2006

For a variety of reasons affordable housing has been a topic of conversation over the last few months in Westport.  It was a topic of great interest at the first public meeting about the update for the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, and the Planning and Zoning Commission is currently considering an affordable housing application for the Gorham Avenue Historic District.

Now in December, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff is planning a summit on affordable housing in Westport.  The summit is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall and will include experts on affordable housing.  Joseloff said the subject—whether it’s called affordable, workforce or senior housing—is of a major concern to Westporters, and everyone needs to learn more about it.

There needs to be a place to house young people who work in Westport, house the town’s employees and give chances for senior citizens who want to downsize and stay in town, he said.  Residents have said they rather be the ones to control how the town addresses affordable housing needs, Joseloff said, rather than the private developers.

Town officials are working to move ahead with an engineering firm to analyze placing affordable housing on the Baron’s South property, which currently houses the Center for Senior Activities, he said.

“We need to learn as much as we can,” he said. “We have to learn how to do it successfully on our own terms.”

Joseloff said during the year he has been in office, a number of senior citizens have contacted him that they cannot afford to stay in Westport. Many of them are people who have lived in town for many years, he said.

“It’s sad and the town needs to step up and find ways (to provide affordable housing),” he said.

Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley said affordable housing is included in the current incarnation of the town plan in that the P&Z should promote it when possible. Through the discussions with boards and commissions for the update, affordable housing was one of the biggest topics brought up for consideration in the town plan update, he said.

“If you look through (the interviews), you see it as a theme,” he said.

The town’s emergency officials have seen an effect on how they respond to emergencies because their workers live a distance away.

“I would obviously love to have our people live here,” said Police Chief Al Fiore. “We have a few, but not many because they can’t afford it here.”

The people who do live in Westport received their property from their parents or grandparents, he said.

“It would be a nice option to have our people locally,” he said. During emergencies, it’s harder to respond to the incident, Fiore said.  During the Labor Day weekend wind storm, he said, there was a waiting period for people to arrive because the officers were coming from Trumbull, Monroe and Shelton.

“We can wait up to an hour for them,” he said.

Fire Chief Christopher Ackley said there is a noticeable impact on how firefighters respond than when they closer, such as a callback for a fire.

“It takes them longer to come back,” he said. “It can take 40 minutes or more for them to come in.”

In a weather event such as a snow storm, he said, the firefighters are not only traveling distances to report for work; they are also fighting the weather to get to Westport.



P&Z Considers Denying Gorham Affordable Housing Plan
Westport NEWS
By Jennifer Connic
December 1, 2006

All seven Westport Planning and Zoning Commission members said tonight they should deny a plan for an affordable housing in the Gorham Avenue Historic District and began discussing how to back up such a vote.

Red Coat Development has proposed to build 20 condominiums at the 1.5 acres at 296 Main St. and 5 Gorham Ave. Six of the units would be deemed “affordable” under state statutes. The application falls under the state’s affordable housing statute, which switches the burden of proof on a zoning decision to the commission.

Commission members said there is a significant need for affordable housing in Westport, but the plan presented was not the proper way to do it.

“We have a need for affordable housing in this town,” said Bruce Kasanoff, a commission member. “It’s critical and we need to do more. If I thought of the worst possible way to do it, (the application) would be close to it.”

He said it appeared the applicant did not have any interest in designing a viable affordable housing project for the community nor how the commission could improve its affordable housing regulations.

Howard Lathrop, a commission member, said the town has regulations for affordable housing, and if Redcoat officials were serious about developing the housing they should try to work within that.

“They should look where they could easily do it, and it would come with encouragement,” he said.

Commission members Timothy Wetmore and David Press said they both considered ways that the application could be changed in order to make the plan more appealing to the neighborhood, but it would mean a drastic cut in the number of units.

“It would mean dramatically less than 20 units, and the applicant said they would not do that,” Wetmore said.

Press said he believes the commission should develop further affordable housing regulations that are for residential and not commercial areas of town because of the application.

Ron Corwin, a commission member, said the commission needs to proceed carefully because there is a high probability the case would be appealed in court.

Commission Chairwoman Eleanor Lowenstein said the application was one of the toughest she has ever sat on, but she believes the commission has a “leg to stand on” in denying the application.

The plan is for a historic district, she said, and historic districts fall under a different state statute than zoning.

The Historic District Commission carries certain powers under the state statutes, she said.

The HDC needs to approve any plans that change a historic district before the Planning and Zoning Commission reviews it, she said.

“They have to abide by zoning regulations, but we have no say in the things they say about facades,” she said.

Additionally, the potential drainage problems with the project is another issue that could stand up in court, she said.

Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley said the commission has more expert testimony to use as backup for its decision than he has seen in any other state affordable housing case.

The commission has until Jan. 20 to vote on the application.


Affordable rentals could fill 'hole'
Greenwich TIME
By Hoa Nguyen, Staff Writer
Published December 1 2006

Saying that he wants to provide more affordable housing in town, a Greenwich developer has submitted plans for one of the largest apartment buildings recently proposed in town.

John Fareri is seeking to construct 96 rental apartments on four stories at 644 W. Putnam Ave., a fenced-in and half-excavated construction site known as "the hole." In the process, he wants to change a town zoning rule to create more incentive for developers to build affordable housing.

The building will occupy about 42,000 square feet and include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging in size from 700-square-feet to 1,700 square-feet and feature two underground parking spaces and a gym, pool and fitness center. The rents will range from $1,800 to $4,000, though 20 of the units will be priced at $1,200 for residents who meet income guidelines, such as a single person who earns $72,054 or less or a two-person family with earnings of $90,067 or less.

"I want this to be a model project," Fareri said.

The developer bought the property three years ago after Competition & Sports Cars abandoned plans to build a BMW showroom and service facility there, leaving the half-dug site. Since then, the site has sat unused while Fareri mulled his options, he said. Though he initially shopped the site around to commercial tenants, Fareri said his mind turned to housing after learning that the town lacks affordable housing. Only about 5 percent of Greenwich's housing stock is affordable, well below the state mandate of 10 percent.

"After reading article after article about affordable housing, I must say I was kind of challenged," the developer said. "The more I thought about it, the more I thought a residential use would be the best use of the property."

Fareri said he wants to target the market of tenants who once would have leased units at Putnam Green and Weaver's Hill but now can't because the two rental apartment complexes are being converted into condominiums and sold at luxury prices. Rents there had ranged anywhere from $1,200 to $3,600.

"I kept reading day after day about what's happening there," Fareri said.

One of the most significant aspects of the project is that developers want a zoning concession, seeking to build about double the number of units and a much larger structure than typically allowed in exchange for the 20 moderate-income units. The proposal seeks to change the zoning rules to allow other developers to follow suit, saying that the current rules don't offer enough incentives to build affordable housing.

"Time's changed and economics changed," said Fareri's zoning lawyer John Tesei.

The project is expected to face stiff Planning and Zoning Commission scrutiny because the proposed zoning change would allow other developers to follow suit and perhaps lead to overbuilding, Town Planner Diane Fox said.

"There's going to be a lot of discussion on the impact to zoning," she said. "If we do it for this, does this open the Pandora's box for everything?"

One alternative Fareri could take would be to target about a third of the units for low-income tenants, which would require him to offer lower rents on more units but he said that economically, could be achieved if he built a bigger building with more units. State laws mandate that towns must approve such projects, giving officials limited zoning oversight.

Fareri said he is not interested in such a building.

"You would have a taller building, you would have more bulk," he said. "It's important for me to say 'I built that building and I'm proud of it.' "


Area residents say housing is becoming harder to afford
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Doug Dalena, Staff Writer
Published November 28 2006

Despite attempts to address an acute shortage of affordable housing, the problem is getting worse, according to most people surveyed an Advocate and Greenwich Time poll.  The poll conducted by the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis found nearly 60 percent of respondents in Stamford, Greenwich and Norwalk believe the problem of housing affordability has worsened in the past five years.

More than three-fourths of all respondents said the lack of affordable housing is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. An overwhelming 78 percent of Stamford residents believed middle-income housing should be built downtown rather than low-income or high-rise luxury housing.  In Greenwich, 67 percent said middle-income housing was the most needed.

Stamford has tried to fight the housing shortage on several fronts. In 2003, the Board of Representatives passed an inclusionary housing ordinance that requires developers to reserve homes for low-and moderate-income buyers or renters, or pay to have affordable housing built elsewhere.  At the same time, the city has added incentives to build housing for all income levels.

"We folded it in to another concept and that is making it easier to build housing, period," Mayor Dannel Malloy said. "It was, 'We want to build thousands of units of housing, and a percentage of those need to be affordable.' "

In Norwalk, the issue of affordable housing appears to be gaining wider support. The Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce recently threw its support behind a proposed work force housing ordinance that would require developers to make a certain percentage of new units affordable.  The proposed local law, which goes up for a public hearing Dec. 6, would require developers building more than 20 units to make at least 10 percent of them in new multifamily complexes affordable to a family of four earning less $65,000 a year.

In exchange, developers could increase project density, transfer units to another project or pay a fee to a special fund - currently estimated at $218,700 per unit.  The chamber's support appears to match public sentiment in Norwalk, where 71.5 percent of residents believe lack of affordable housing is a "very" or "somewhat serious" problem, according to the poll.

In addition, the poll found a slim majority of Norwalk residents - about 52 percent - would like to see an affordable housing in their neighborhood, while 37.5 percent are against it.

"I find that very heartening," said Dorothy Mobilia, former chairwoman of the city's Zoning Commission.  Mobilia said the need for lower-cost housing becomes apparent when considering statistics that show more than 50 percent of Norwalk's firefighters, more than 70 percent of its police officers and more than 75 percent of its nurses don't live in the city.

"(The survey) shows there may be some serious thought given to the need for affordable housing, especially in light of the chamber's position, which would normally be considered unusual," she said.  Mayor Richard Moccia said he has come around on the issue. Moccia said he had been against codifying a certain percentage of new units as affordable, fearing it might cause business and developers to shy away from Norwalk and further shift the tax burden to homeowners.

But given that several major developers and the chamber back the 10 percent plan, and that the housing would benefit the local work force, "those factors led me, quite honestly, to reconsider my opinion," Moccia said.  He said some developers are going far beyond what the ordinance is seeking: Norwalk-based M.F. DiScala & Co. plans to build 160 units on Wall and Smith streets in the old city center and would designate nearly half below market rate, Moccia said.

POKO Partners, which plans a development on nearby Isaac Street, has pitched a similar plan, he said.  Moccia said one lingering concern is the state, which he said does little to reward cities that work to keep housing affordable.


"If the state keeps telling us 'we want you to keep people in town, keep them off the roads' . . . they need to do something to reward us," Moccia said, noting that greater state aid to help pay for education is a possible incentive.  In Stamford, only a few developments have been built to address the need, but if all were built, hundreds of affordable homes would be built in the next decade.

The city also dedicates a portion of property taxes and building permit fees from the largest projects to affordable housing, funds a revolving second-mortgage program to help first-time home buyers, and includes money for public and nonprofit housing development in the capital budget.  Efforts by the city and nonprofit agencies, backed by banks and corporate employers, and more recently, state affordable housing grants, are picking up the ball the federal government has dropped, Malloy said.

With the exception of the Hope VI program, which pays for rehabilitation of existing public housing stock, and funding for assisted living facilities, the federal government no longer finances complexes such as the St. John Towers apartments on Tresser Boulevard. Tenants pay $500 to $800 per month, depending on their income and apartment size.

Federal housing loans financed St. John's construction in the late 1960s, but the complex's nonprofit board plans to sell one of the three towers for $23 million to finance rehabilitation of the other two.

"You're not even seeing senior housing being built," Malloy said. "There is a program to see assisted living being built. Nobody else is doing what we're doing." The Urban Redevelopment Commission is requiring the developer of Park Square West, a four-building apartment and retail development on condemned downtown land, to make 20 percent of the apartments affordable to renters who make less than half the area median income.

Renters' incomes must fall under certain limits, from $40,700 for an individual to $116,300 for a family of four. One building opened in 2001; the remaining three are working their way through approvals.  The 20 percent requirement is double the affordable housing requirement for most other areas of the city. Developments closest to Mill River Park and the Stamford Transportation Center require 12 percent.

The Jonathan Rose Co. of New York, which is building the housing component of the Metro Center II office and residential project development next to the transportation center, has pledged to make 23 percent of the housing - 48 townhouse-style apartments - affordable to people making $20,000 to $72,000.

If Antares Investment Partners of Greenwich builds all of the 4,000 units of housing it has proposed for its Harbor Point development in the South End, meeting the 10 percent standard there would mean 400 new affordable homes.  Antares officials have said it plans to build all the homes on site instead of asking to pay an affordable housing fee.

The first phase of the development, planned for completion in 2009, would include 93 affordable rentals and for-sale homes.

When the Zoning Board allows developers to pay the fee, the results can provide millions of dollars to build affordable housing or provide down payment and mortgage assistance for moderate-income buyers.

The money can go into a city fund or directly to affordable housing developers.

Though only 5.4 percent of poll respondents believe the city needs high-rise luxury housing, developers acknowledge they are aiming at a small market - mostly empty-nesters and young corporate professionals - willing to pay a hefty premium for views of Long Island Sound, luxury accommodations, and proximity to downtown shops and restaurants.

That premium can add up in a hurry.

"We've already collected over $2 million, there's potentially a lot more," Stamford Land Use Bureau Chief Robin Stein said.  Trump Parc alone would provide $2.9 million for affordable housing.  The Highgrove condominium tower at Forest and Grove streets would add $1.7 million, while the City Place condominium development on Washington Boulevard would provide another $800,000.

But a study completed in 2001 found thousands of affordable homes were needed, so while Stamford is doing more than most, the attempts have only begun to make a dent in the problem.

"It's all incremental," Stein said.


Affordable housing debate hits home in Wilton
By Mar Walker: Hersam Acorn Newspapers
Nov 21, 2006
 
Connecticut’s young adults and young families are steadily moving away, draining the state of educated brain power and depleting its workforce, according to statistics from HomeConnecticut. The organization, which is the public outreach arm of the Partnership for Strong Communities, says that Connecticut lost more 20- to 34-year-olds in the last 10 years than any other state in the country.

Town-by-town 2005 statistics on house prices and qualifying mortgage income from HomeConnecituct hint at why. In Wilton, to qualify for a mortgage for an $887,500 median-priced home with the 10% down payment typical of young buyers, a household income of at least $264,770 would be needed. Wilton’s median household income of $155,261 in 2005 falls well short of that figure. Even if the buyers could qualify, the resulting $6,177 monthly mortgage payment is prohibitive for many occupations across many age groups.

Connecticut’s housing prices have risen 63.6% from 2000 to 2006. That’s three and a half times the rate of increase for wages here, according to HomeConnecticut. State businesses are already experiencing labor shortages because of the trend.

These and other thought-provoking statistics were aired at a recent symposium on “inclusionary zoning,” a specific regulatory method of providing affordable housing. The symposium was sponsored by the United Way and was held at the Danbury Sheraton Hotel.

For towns to meet both their state-mandated 10% of total housing units in affordable housing and also the needs of their own less fortunate residents, a broad-based approach is required, Allen Mallach, research director of the National Housing Institute, said at the meeting. His broad-based strategy might encompass inclusionary zoning, as well as dedicated developments created by nonprofit corporations in public- private partnerships with the towns themselves, as well as accessory apartments.

With the inclusionary zoning concept, developers are required to create a certain number of affordable units no matter what zone they are building in, whether it’s single-family homes with four-acre zoning or two-acre zoning, or multifamily zoning. As with open space requirements, sometimes towns accept a donation to a “set-aside” fund in lieu of the open space or the affordable housing. In this scenario, the town would eventually use these funds to build affordable units on town properties.

Stamford uses the inclusionary zoning regulations and requires a 10% affordable set-aside on new construction from builders across all zones, said Phyllis Kapiloff, chairwoman of Stamford’s zoning board. Ms. Kapiloff told the symposium that aside from state mandates, the long-term effort to create underlying regulations and build affordable units was amply rewarded in a very human way, by the benefit to people who truly need the housing.

Attendees at the symposium included Paul Valeri of Redding, a builder who is currently developing the Ryder Farm subdivision in Redding. Mr. Valeri is chairman of the Nonprofit Development Corporation of Danbury Inc., an all-volunteer group that builds affordable housing in Danbury, a city that is currently above its 10% state-mandated quota. Mr. Valeri said appropriate affordable housing can be built even “in the most suburban town possible.”

The right thing

“What I hope comes of that session is for the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials to allow Jonathan Chew (who is its executive director) to develop a model ordinance that could be adopted by every single town,” said Mr. Valeri.

“Just because a town doesn’t have town sewers or water — that doesn’t mean beans. What this is all about is for towns to do the right thing before they are forced by a developer to do the wrong thing for that town. Inclusionary zoning allows the town to have architectural review on affordable housing projects,” he said.

But the regulation has to be written and adopted first. “You could say for every five lots, one affordable house be built. You can build a modest Vermont Vernacular, a classic modest farmhouse which everybody loves and embraces. You can have architectural review on the whole thing,” he said. He added that when a town takes the initiative, it can get a contribution to its affordable housing in a way that is completely compatible with the town’s aesthetics.

Modest homes, as opposed to apartments or condominiums, said Mr. Valeri, can have a permanent deed restriction, which allows a very limited appreciation on resale. It gets resold to someone who can qualify for a CHFA mortgage, he said.

Affordable accessory apartments are deed-restricted for only 10 years. Other types of affordable developments can carry a 40-year deed restriction.

“The bottom line, for those who really take the time to investigate, is that this can be tastefully achieved. This sort of thing can be pulled off gracefully to everybody’s delight. It’s a win-win-win situation,” Mr. Valeri said.

Circularity

As a sole means of meeting the state mandate, the inclusionary zoning idea holds a conundrum for any town wanting more nature, not more houses. If Wilton aimed to get its state-mandated quota of affordable housing (more than 640 units) through a 10% “set-aside” from new development, it would have to see 6,400 new housing units built in the town. Even then, it would not meet the state mandate because its total number of housing units would have doubled. For multi-family housing zones, the town has had a 20% “set-aside” requirement for some time, said Bob Nerney, Wilton’s town planner, who holds a master’s degree in the subject.

“It’s a number we will always be chasing,” said Mr. Nerney. “The goal is not to reach that 10%, it’s to provide affordable housing in town.”

Wilton stands at 2.6% (168 affordable units) of its quota, Mr. Nerney said.

“There are some apartments, some condominiums. It includes both sales and rentals. The bulk are rentals. Twenty-four of the units are owned with deed restrictions that protect the affordability,” he said. “The town, also, in the early 1990s acquired land from the DOT, and there are seven affordable units there now, built through a nonprofit organization.”

In Wilton, a new proposal is also in the works for Wilton Commons, a 77-unit congregate housing facility for the elderly near the town center, built through a public/private partnership on town-owned land under a long-term, low-cost lease to the private nonprofit group.

Despite its efforts, Wilton is in court through the affordable housing appeals process, Mr. Nerney said.

There is one current appeal by the town against Avalon Bay Communities for a development of 100 apartments on 10 acres on Danbury Road, he said. “Thirty percent, or 30 units, would be affordable and deed-restricted for 40 years,” he said.

Mr. Nerney said the appeals process shifts the burden of proof from the developer to the town. The statute, the Connecticut Affordable Housing Appeals Act, states that if a town is not at the 10% threshold, it loses several means of denying a proposal from a developer earmarking at least 30% of units as affordable for a length of 40 years.

“And the reasons for denial become much more limited, to just health and safety. Things like compatibility with the area, compliance with the plan of conservation and development — all those things go out the window. All of the those things are generally not considered by the courts under the affordable housing appeals process,” he said.


Affordable housing programs get $3M

Stamford ADVOCATE
By Tobin A. Coleman
Published June 21 2006

A Stamford nonprofit affordable housing developer yesterday was awarded the largest share --Ênearly a third -- of the first $10 million in grants from the state's Housing Trust Fund.

Housing Development Fund Inc. was given $3 million for two affordable housing programs, one that helps individuals and families qualify for first-time mortgages and another that helps developers finance apartments to rent them at below-market rates.  Governor M. Jodi Rell yesterday announced that seven applicants will split the initial $10 million from the Housing Trust Fund.

"The $100 million Housing Trust Fund was created to address the critical need for more affordable housing in Connecticut," Rell said in a statement. "Today's announcement signals the start of these funds 'hitting the streets' and making a real difference in the lives of Connecticut workers and their families."

The $100 million in state grants will be delivered during a five-year period. They are given to groups that promote affordable housing through loans and grants to individuals and developers. The fund is administered by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

The Housing Development Fund plans to use $1 million of the grant for its program that helps families trying to move from rental homes make a down payment on their first houses.

"We take them through that whole process," Housing Development Fund Executive Director Joan Carty said in a telephone interview. "Part of the process is counseling them about what level of mortgage they qualify for, given household income and whatever savings they have."

The program gives homeowners a no-interest loan, usually $7,000 to $15,000, enough for them to qualify to buy the home they seek. When the home is sold, the loan is repaid and the money is lent to the next home buyer.  Carty said the state grant will allow Housing Development Fund to help 60 to 70 additional families in the program.

The other Housing Development Fund program will receive $1.85 million. The program will allow affordable housing developers to rent units to cover the difference between what banks will lend and the funds needed to start a project that would charge below-market rents.

"This allows the economics of some multifamily projects to work," Carty said. Some projects are already under consideration in Norwalk, Bridgeport and Danbury, she said.

The final $150,000 of the grant will help the organization cover administrative costs.


Study-Region 2nd most expensive
December 21, 2004 (lead story)
By CHRIS BOSAK Norwalk Hour Staff Writer

NORWALK -- The annual "Out of Reach" report released Monday confirmed what most people already know: Housing is expensive in the area.

In fact, the Norwalk/Stamford area is the second-most expensive area in the country, according to the report, issued by the Connecticut Housing Coalition and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. According to the report, a person would have to earn $27.63 an hour -- or $57,480 a year -- to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment.

That number is down from last year's wage of $28.71, reflecting a slight drop in rents in the area. Only San Francisco, at $29.60, is higher than Norwalk/Stamford. The next five most expensive places are other California metropolitan areas, followed by Boston, Westchester (N.Y) County and Nassau/Suffolk on Long Island. "We're usually second or third," said Margaret Suib, Norwalk's fair housing officer.

"In the Norwalk/Stamford area, the annual median family income is $111,600. That's such a high median. For those not in the upper echelon, that makes houses that much less affordable." Suib stressed that the report's analysis is not necessarily bad news for the area. She said it's an indicator that the economy is doing well in the area, "so we don't want to change that."

She said more affordable housing in the area is the best way to address the issue. Connecticut was ranked the sixth most expensive state in the country. Fairfield County was not one of the top 10 most expensive counties. The top nine most expensive counties are all in California. The report found that many full-time workers do not earn enough to live in the Norwalk/Stamford area.

State Sen.-elect Bob Duff, D-25th District, said it is one of several issues that are playing off each other as hot-button topics for local legislatures to handle. The transportation problems plaguing the area only worsen as workers are forced to commute from other towns. Then there's the question of what transportation issue to tackle: improving Interestate 95 or the rail system. "A lot of this is tied in together," said Duff, who was recently appointed chairman of the General Assembly's Housing Committee.

Duff, who is also a Realtor, said the average price of a house in Norwalk nine years ago when he got his start in real estate was $150,000. Now it is more than $600,000. "Norwalk is expensive, but the towns around us are even more out of reach," he said.

According to the report, low-income households are those that earn 30 percent or less of an area's median income. In this area that is a household earning $33,480 or less. The report also assumes the standard that housing affordability is when a household pays no more than 30 percent of its gross income.

"Their (the report's) numbers are good," Suib said. "Everyone seems to rely on the report." According to the report, a single parent living in the Norwalk/Stamford area making minimum wage ($7.10 an hour) would have to work 156 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The report, which uses rental figures determined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development surveys, claims the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Norwalk/Stamford area is $1,437.

Rent in the area should be $837, using the 30 percent of area median income standard. "It's supposed to be that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to put a roof over your kids' heads," Jeffrey Freiser, executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition, said in a release. "Our state can and must do more to make housing affordable for struggling families."

To view the report, visit http://nlihc.org



Richest 2% own 'half the wealth'
 

By Andrew Walker, Economics correspondent, BBC World Service  
5 December 2006

The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth, according to a new study by a United Nations research institute.  The report, from the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the UN University, says that the poorer half of the world's population own barely 1% of global wealth.

There have of course been many studies of worldwide inequality.  But what is new about this report, the authors say, is its coverage.  It deals with all countries in the world - either actual data or estimates based on statistical analysis - and it deals with wealth, where most previous research has looked at income.

What they mean by wealth in this study is what people own, less what they owe - their debts. The assets include land, buildings, animals and financial assets.

Different assets

The analysis shows, as have many other less comprehensive studies, striking divergences in wealth between countries.  Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and some countries in the Asia Pacific region, such as Japan and Australia.  These countries account for 90% of household wealth.

The study also finds that inequality is sharper in wealth than in annual income.  And it uncovers some striking differences in the types of assets that dominate in different countries.  In less developed nations, land and farm assets are more important, reflecting the greater importance of agriculture in those economies. In addition, the report says the weighting is the result of "immature" financial institutions, which make it much harder for people to have savings accounts or shares.

In contrast, some citizens of the rich countries have more debt than assets - making them, the report says, among the poorest in the world in terms of household wealth. 
However, they are presumably better off in terms of what they consume than many people in developing countries.

Comprehensive

The survey is based on data for the year 2000. The authors say a more recent year would have involved more gaps in the data. As it is, many figures - especially for developing countries - have had to be estimated.   Nonetheless, the authors say it is the most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken.

Why does it matter? Because wealth serves as insurance against times when income tends to fall, such as unemployment, sickness or old age.

It is also a source of finance for small businesses, a particularly important point since it is the countries with lower levels of personal wealth which also tend to have weaker financial systems without the funds, ability or inclination to lend to small firms.

The report is not about policy recommendations.

But one of the authors, Professor Anthony Shorrocks, says it does draw attention to the importance of enhancing banking systems in developing countries to help generate the funds for business investment.


NOTE:  Please remember that "About Weston" is not an official website or source.
Southwestern Regional Housing Needs Assessment 2007:
Maps for all eight towns with identified locations where housing might locate, based upon some, if not all of criteria. 


The INTRODUCTION of SWRPA's  2007 document (above).

Sewer Service Map 2007 and aerial photograph of Weston Center general area - note that the circle includes part of Wilton, the section of School Road in Weston not served by tertiary treatment, the West Branch of the Saugatuck River, and several other points of interest, natural features or limiting factors to more intense development than the carrying capacity of wells and septics systems can handle.


The map at the left shows existing sewered areas (brown stripe) and  public water supply (blue); sub-area #21 in the Region and blow up.

GUESS WHERE THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS LOCATED?
Weston Town Meeting some years ago purchased the development rights to the Nature Conservancy for open space prices.


THE GOLF - POLO MAP
Yellow
is turf and grass, red is developed (roads) and green in varying shades are forest or forest wetland.  Anything that looks blue at this scale is a REALLY big body of water (guess which one is the biggest - yup, the Saugatuck Reservoir)!

This is a most interesting report and we link to our Regional Plan page to see where we think it fits in!







Conn. 3rd in nation in credit card debt 
DAY   
Posted on Jul 30, 12:58 PM EDT

NEW YORK (AP) -- A new study says Connecticut is third in the nation in median credit card debt, following only Alaska and New Hampshire.

The study by Americans for Fairness in Lending says Alaska leads all states with debt of $3,384. New Hampshire came in second with $2,109 in median debt, and Connecticut was third with $2,094 in debt.

The report released on Wednesday was based on 2006 year-end information from TransUnion, one of the nation's credit bureaus.

The states with the lowest median credit card debt are Mississippi, Iowa and West Virginia.


Region is tops in tax burden
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Brian Lockhart, Staff Writer
Published March 30 2007

As if Gov. M. Jodi Rell does not have a hard enough time selling her income tax increases to Gold Coast residents, her job has been further complicated by a Republican congressman and a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, and the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation are shining separate spotlights on how much money lower Fairfield County and the entire state already shell out to the government.  Shays issued a statement condemning the passage yesterday by the House of Representatives of a $2.9 trillion federal budget that he estimates would hike the average Connecticut resident's tax bill by $4,311.  Hardest hit would be his district of lower Fairfield County, Shays said, because the budget allows President Bush's tax cuts to expire.

"The bottom line is the tax cuts benefit our district better than almost any other in the country . . . because of our wealth," Shays said.

That wealth is what lands the Stamford/Norwalk region at the top of the Tax Foundation's latest survey, from 2004, of U.S. areas paying the highest federal taxes.  The average household pays $82,745 in federal taxes - more than the combined totals of the second and third runners up, according to the Tax Foundation's report. San Francisco pays the second highest federal taxes at $36,409; San Jose, Calif., the third highest at $34,577.

The foundation also said Connecticut as a whole pays the most federal taxes, followed by New Jersey and Massachusetts.

"Nothing operates in a vacuum," Rell spokesman Rich Harris said yesterday, acknowledging that the statements from Shays and the Tax Foundation do not make the Republican governor's job any easier.

But Harris said Rell's income tax hike is part of a package that would provide municipalities with $3.4 billion more in school aid, cut car taxes, phase out the estate tax and require cities and towns to limit their property tax increases to 3 percent.

"The governor's budget has to be looked at in the context of not just the income tax," Harris said. "When you look at her proposal, it effectively takes the burden off the local property tax. That is a problem for every community in the state, but it's clearly an issue in Fairfield County and on Connecticut's coastline."

But Rell has yet to convince Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, or Richard Moccia, Norwalk's Republican mayor. And Fairfield County legislators, including House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, have all indicated a wariness of the tax increases.  Shays said that even if Rell's budget is not passed, she has made a tax increase acceptable for the General Assembly's Democratic majority.

At a legislative forum Wednesday in Stamford, House Majority Leader James Amann, D-Milford, reiterated his support for a gradual income tax increase for incomes of $150,000 to $200,000.  Amann has said this would protect the middle class by targeting the state's wealthy - many of them living in lower Fairfield County - who benefited from the Bush tax cuts.

Shays countered that not only would those residents lose those cuts, but they would wind up paying them back to the state if the legislature has its way.

"We pay the most taxes anywhere in the country, and we're going to now get hit doubly hard. . . . That would be an outrage," Shays said. "I have constituents who have told me they could move to Florida.

"Based on their income and the tax they pay Connecticut, what they save by moving to Florida is enough to buy them a home and pay their property taxes. So they basically say 'I can live, in essence, for free.' "




Housing that is affordable:  how to provide for it in Washington State:  CPA 210/08 Affordable Housing Amendments:  not yet adopted.


As proposed for public hearing by the Island County Planning Commission:
http://www.islandcounty.net/planning/docket/2008/PROPOSED%20CHANGES%20TO%20IC%20COMP%20PLAN.pdf

Proposed amendments (staff report) in bold letters:

http://www.islandcounty.net/planning/docket/2008/CPA%20210-08%20Affordable%20Housing%20Staff%20Report%20%283%29.pdf

Previous language:

http://www.islandcounty.net/planning/pdf/compplan/housing.pdf