MERIDEN — As the city tries to fill its vacant downtown storefronts with restaurants and shops, some would like to see an end to new affordable housing units.
“The consensus opinion is we have met our obligations,” said Enrico Buccilli, chairman of the steering committee tasked with drafting the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development. “We have certainly met the needs of the city.”
While in many other towns the affordable housing stock is well below 10 percent of total housing, Meriden is near 16 percent.
Within the 15 cities and towns in the South Central Region of Governments, Meriden is one of three exempt from Connecticut General Statute 8-30; Affordable Land Use Appeals, because more than 10 percent of its housing stock is affordable. The statute requires municipal planning and zoning agencies with less than 10 percent deemed affordable to defend their decisions to reject affordable housing applications.
West Haven and New Haven have 12.97 percent and 29.89 percent affordable, respectively. Despite the percentages, Meriden and these two other cities have long waiting lists for affordable housing.
“If each (other municipality in the South Central Region) reached 10 percent, an additional 7,335 units would be available,” according to information from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
In the past three years, 295 rental units have been added or are under construction in downtown. Most of the units are considered affordable, serving tenants who learn less than 60 percent of the average median income, or $52,000 and below.
Many would like to see more income in the pockets of those who can support local businesses.
“There is no need for additional low-income or subsidized housing in the city,” was a common public comment at a recent Town Hall meeting with the steering committee.
The Plan of Conservation and Development acts as a guide for development decisions. A survey to weigh public opinion on resident and business priorities will be distributed next week.
Supporters of affordable housing argue that the mixed-income developments at 24 Colony St., Meriden Commons I and II just north of the Meriden Green and at 11 Crown St. equaled $112 million in public/private investments, something that would not have happened without the incentives to build affordable housing.
The low-income housing tax credit made it financially viable for developers to invest in the city. For instance, the change from 70 percent affordable to 80 percent at 11 Crown St. yielded an additional $2 million in tax credits that closed a financing gap. The 81-unit project is now under construction.
Despite the financing advantages of affordable housing, city officials have said the tide has turned and the city is ready to move forward with market rate housing.
“Most of the second phase is market rate,” said city Economic Development Director Joseph Feest.‘Jobs and money’
Two more projects that could utilize tax credits are proposed by Meriden Commons I and II developer Pennrose Properties. One property sits behind the Meriden Green amphitheater, in the northwest corner of the park. The other property is on the east portion of the Green along Pratt Street, across from Big M liquors. A commercial pad is roughly across from the firehouse.
“We are prepared to move forward at some point,” said Charlie Adams, vice president of Pennrose. “We’re still working on it.”
The new units will be 80 percent market rate and 20 percent affordable, Adams said, a reversal of the current ratio at Meriden Commons I, II and 11 Crown St.
No formal site plan for the projects has been submitted, said City Planner Renata Bertotti.
Another project, at 143 W. Main St., proposed by the Meriden Housing Authority would have 57 housing units. It is unclear if any of those would be classified as affordable.
Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Cappelletti could not be reached for comment, and no formal site plan has been submitted, Bertotti said.
Ross Gulino, a local landlord and developer, sits on the Planning Commission and steering committee. Gulino said although he thinks there is an abundance of low-income housing, he would support a ratio of 80 percent market rate and 20 percent affordable.
As with others on the steering committee, Gulino does not want the city to promote any more low-income housing, but instead make provisions to increase the city’s grand list through more industrial and commercial users.
“If (development proposals) are for market rate, that’s fantastic,” he said. “If they know they can fill them with people with jobs and money, that’s not a bad thing. I only get excited when I see it’s real.”