Meriden housing, rental markets, especially tough on lower-income residents

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MERIDEN — A strong sellers’ housing market, increased investor activity and the end of the eviction moratorium are putting the squeeze on low and medium-income renters’ finances in the city and surrounding towns, according to a recent affordable housing report and housing advocates.

Low and medium-income renters, who have traditionally struggled to save enough to afford a down-payment, have found themselves priced out of the housing market, housing advocates said. The impact has led to increased competition for a limited supply of apartments, resulting in higher rents. 

“Renters in Meriden face housing prices that are exceeding what many can afford, leading to higher cost burden percentages particularly for renter households,” according to a recent report from RKG Associates presented this week to the City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee. “Meriden has households facing housing cost burdens.”

It also has a shortage of available units for higher-wage earners who might be paying less than they can afford but drive up rental prices across all property types, the report stated.

 “These trends suggest distributional gaps between incomes, home values, and available housing indicating that there is a mismatch between current housing options and the existing households creating gaps in affordability,” the report stated. “The gap between demand and supply for households above 100% Average Median Income is 1,193 units. The lack of higher priced rental units in Meriden puts downward pressure on the supply of housing priced for lower income households. Higher income households have more choices in the housing market and are likely renting units at a lower price point than they could otherwise afford.”

Rising rents

The South Central Regional Council of Governments hired RKG of Boston to create affordable housing reports for 13 of its 15 member municipalities. The city’s and towns are expected to draft affordable housing plans by June 2022, in accordance with state law. Meriden ranks higher than most other municipalities in the region for having 16.5 percent of its housing stock classified as affordable. But changes in demographics and rent increases may continue to challenge the city, the report stated.

Based on Zumper rental data for the past five years by unit type, median rents for one-bedroom apartments rose by 18%. This trend in rental prices is in line with the 32% increase in single person renter households, specifically middle to higher income renter households, which may be contributing to the increase in pricing for smaller units, the report stated.

Dona Ditrio, executive director of New Opportunities for Greater Meriden said the agency sees about 50 people a week applying for rental assistance. Many lost income during the pandemic, others through sickness and some are struggling with rent increases. 

“We’re seeing folks coming in looking at apartments from $900 to $1,200, whereas it was less two years ago...about $750” for a one-bedroom, Ditrio said. “About 40 percent are single individuals, looking. It’s tough, people are struggling; groceries, utilities went up. We look at what else they might need to help keep them sustained in that apartment.” 

Cost burden

Out-of-state investors have picked up multi-family homes at a frenetic pace statewide, said Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

“When tenants aren’t able to pay the rent, they are unable to find housing,” Kemple said. “They’re raising rents. It was always tough for low-income renters to make the jump (to homeownership). It’s now exacerbated.”

Requests for assistance aren’t coming from the city’s mixed-income affordable housing complexes such as Meriden Commons I and II or 11 Crown St., Ditrio said. Instead, they are coming from tenants in two- to four-family homes, a housing style that has seen virtually no new construction in a decade, according to the report. 

“Furthermore, in the last couple of years, Meriden has not seen a lot of new multifamily construction (based on CT permitting data) despite household increases, specifically among renters, which has most likely increased competition and consequently prices for existing rental units,” according to RKG. “The consequence being that these added pressures increase cost burdening for existing renters who face rising prices.”

David Fink, of the South Central Regional Council of Governments, praised Meriden for its diverse mix of housing styles and rate of affordable housing.

Over the past decade, cities and towns have experienced losses in owner households and gains in renter households. Meriden gained 1,437 single person renter households and lost 521 owner households. 

The city’s population is growing and projected to continue. It will likely add 1,000 people in five years and another 3,000 more by 2040. Most of the population will be among residents over age 55, which indicates a potential need for other types of housing. The 18-24 year old age group is also growing, according to the report. Many of these young people are looking for smaller units in walkable locations with amenities. 


City Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks attended a regional presentation of the SCRCOG study. 

“There are some very obvious opportunities here,” Jelks said. “Not just new construction but rehabilitation. There are a few abandoned properties that could be used for other uses. But part of our housing plan has to include a better transit system. Our bus system hasn’t been as robust as it could be. I don’t think we have a ton of senior housing outside of a nursing home. We also need supportive housing to aid disabled people whose parents are aging.”

Redlining against lower-income families and minorities continues today in Connecticut through zoning against multi-family housing and support for one-bedroom units or senior housing. Concerns over straining schools and public services is an argument against families, who have a right to move, she said.

Jelks hopes all communities will review their affordable housing plan for opportunities to diversify their housing stock. 

“I was happy to see that Meriden is in better shape to address the housing need,” she said.

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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