Southington planners pessimistic about reaching state affordable housing goals



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SOUTHINGTON — A preliminary plan to increase affordable housing suggests forming a housing advisory group, encouraging subsidized housing such as Section 8 and creating a housing fund.

Southington hasn’t met the state’s goal for affordable housing. The plan was commissioned by the town to fulfill a state requirement.

Consultant Glenn Chalder of Planimetrics presented a first draft of the plan during Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. The town currently has 967 housing units considered affordable by the state and would have to nearly double that to meet the state’s goal.

Some town planners were pessimistic that could be achieved without a massive increase in overall housing and an accompanying change to the town’s character.

“There’s a number of issues that I struggle with on this whole thing and I don’t have an answer,” said Bob Salka, commission vice chairman.

Affordable housing

State officials consider housing affordable if it costs no more than a third of an average household’s income.

Price alone doesn’t qualify housing as affordable in the eyes of the state, however. The apartment or house must also have a 40-year deed restriction keeping the price affordable.

While about 8,000 housing units in town currently meet the cost definition for affordable, Chalder said they aren’t deed-restricted so don’t count towards the town’s state-set affordable housing goal.

That leaves fewer than 1,000 housing units that qualify. Among those units are assisted units such as those supported by Section 8 housing vouchers, Southington’s public housing and deed-restricted affordable housing portions of housing developments.

Thousands of housing units to hit affordable housing mark

Affordable housing units have been added to town recently by developers, including a portion of below-market rate apartments or houses in exchange for favorable zoning rules and greater density. Builders of such developments usually set aside a third of their units as affordable.

While that increases the town’s affordable housing stock, it does so while increasing housing in town overall and affordable housing only very slowly.

Bob Hammersley, commission chairman, said town residents wouldn’t support the type of residential growth needed to add nearly 900 affordable units.

“You’ve got to build thousands (of housing units) to get that 900,” Hammersley said.

Only the building of a major affordable housing project, such as the former Mills Memorial Apartments in Meriden, would close the gap, Salka said, a move that residents were unlikely to support.

“This is Southington, is that what we want?” he said.

“It’s got to be something dramatic if we’re going to make it in 100 years,” Salka said of reaching the state’s goal. “I don’t see that happening unless we can truly get a collaboration between, builders, the federal government, the state government and the town itself.”

Housing group, housing funds

Chalder’s report included recommendations to boost affordable housing, including a host of zoning regulation changes, the establishment of a housing board and encouraging CHFA mortgages that qualify as affordable.

Chalder also suggested the creation of a housing fund that could utilize gift or grant money to encourage affordable housing. Creating more affordable housing may not be one large effort but a host of smaller ones.

“It isn’t always build new units or big projects. There’s incremental ways,” Chalder said.

Christina Volpe, a commission member, said she was glad to have ideas the town can consider to increase affordable housing.

“Without a plan, we’re going to remain in this dark gray space for a while,” she said. “I do think it’s valuable to have a plan.”

The town must adopt an affordable housing plan by June to comply with state requirements.

To read the draft report go to https://tinyurl.com/4yvk4mwc.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ



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