SOUTHINGTON — Town leaders hired a Simsbury company Monday to develop an affordable housing plan in response to a state requirement.
The Town Council unanimously chose Planimetrics to compile the study for no more than $15,000. The company helped the town develop its plan of conservation and development several years ago.
The affordable housing plan requirement stems from General Assembly direction from 2017. The state Department of Housing set a deadline of July 2022 for towns and cities to create their plans although there is no penalty for municipalities that don’t do so. The plan must be updated or redone every five years.
Michael Santoro, policy and research director for the department, said the goal is for towns to create their own plans for affordable housing “rather than have it imposed on them.” The plan includes a housing needs assessment, housing market analysis and affordable housing goals.
“We recognize that there’s significant value for a community planning for its affordable housing needs,” he said.
The department put out two rounds of grants that paid up to $15,000 for planning work. Santoro said some small towns don’t have full time or any planning staff and might have to pay planners to create affordable housing goals.
Southington did not receive a grant, Santoro said.Community input
Town Councilor Val DePaolo said there are many equity issues surrounding affordable housing and wanted to give residents ample chance to comment during the study.
“I want to make sure with all of this that we will have community involvement, community input,” she said. “I want to make sure that we’re not just checking the box.”
Jim Morelli, a town councilor and former Planning and Zoning Commission member, said he worked with Planimetrics on the plan of conservation and development. He supported the town’s choice of the company and said they were professional and helpful.
“I think this is an excellent selection,” Morelli said.Local affordable housing
Bob Hammersley, Planning and Zoning Commission chairman, said the plan could help the town approach affordable housing in a more comprehensive way. Some recent housing applications have included affordable components. An age-restricted housing zone created several years ago includes an affordable housing requirement.
The state wants 10% of a town’s housing stock to be affordable as defined by state statute and based on median incomes.
“Southington doesn’t reach that number,” Hammersley said.
Developers who included affordable units or houses in their applications in towns below that threshold can sidestep some local zoning requirements and their applications are harder to deny.
This past summer, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied a housing plan on Laning Street that included affordable housing. Commission members said the plan didn’t have proper emergency access and was too dense.
Earlier this year, a developer sued the town after planners reduced the size of a downtown affordable housing project from 30 to 22 units. In an agreement between local developer Carl Verderame and the town to settle the lawsuit, the builder was able to construct 28 units. Commission members had density concerns about that development as well.