SOUTHINGTON – As apartment rents and housing prices rise, local authorities are facing the challenges that come with trying to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city.
In this first installment of a series of surveys on affordable housing in Southington, we’ll explain what’s considered affordable by the state, local authority concerns, and the role of public housing in the city.
The city currently has 967 units considered affordable by Connecticut housing officials. The state’s goal is for ten percent of apartments, condos and homes in Southington to be affordable. That would mean nearly doubling the city’s existing affordable housing stock.
State officials have created a formula to determine if housing is affordable. It starts with 80% of the median income for the region or state, whichever is lower. For a family of four living in Southington, that’s $78,500. Housing should consume no more than 30% of a household’s expenses, state officials say, limiting the cost of housing considered affordable to $23,550 a year.
Homes or apartments suitable for a family of four can cost $23,550 or less in Southington, but there is an additional requirement if a home is deemed affordable and counted towards the city’s total.
Michael Santoro, community development specialist with the state Department of Housing, said the housing unit must also be kept at this affordable level by a 40-year deed restriction.
Although an apartment or house may be affordable for a year, increases in rent or increases in the housing market may increase the cost to a family or individual beyond the 30% limit. Only by capping costs through an act restriction can the state be assured that market changes will not affect affordability, Santoro said.
“There is no guarantee that they will remain affordable tomorrow, in a month, in a year,” he said.
He distinguished between “natural” affordable housing and those that are restricted deed or subsidized by the government and therefore counted by the state.
Each year the state compiles a list of affordable housing in each town and city, counting apartments and restricted deed houses as well as the number of government subsidized housing units, Section 8 housing vouchers used locally and CHFA and USDA mortgages.
Cities such as Southington that do not have 10% of housing considered affordable are added to a call list. This gives a developer with projects that include affordable housing the right to appeal a rejection as well as the ability to circumvent many local zoning restrictions.
Bob Hammersley, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said the city’s inclusion on the roll call allows developers to drive where affordable housing projects are rather than city planners.
“That’s absolutely what drives us to find a solution,” Hammersley said. “It’s a huge stick that has been used and continues to be used.”
Local business owner Frank Fragola has proposed a 30-unit development including affordable housing on Laning Street. Planners rejected the proposal last year and Fragola appealed to court. The case has not yet been decided.
Last year, city officials settled a legal case with local developer Carl Verderame after his housing plan for Liberty Street was cut from 30 to 22. He had included nine affordable housing units in the plan, allowing him to appeal under the state statue. Southington planners agreed to license Verderame 28 units and end the trial.
Southington’s inclusion on the list frustrates Hammersley as he said there are options that are affordable for local residents but are not counted by state officials.
In a recent affordable housing study, consultant Glenn Chalder of Planimetric found more than 8,000 homes in the city that met the cost requirements to be considered affordable. In the absence of an indenture restriction capping the price, these properties are not counted by the state.
“Southington offers a diversity of housing options,” Hammersley said. “It takes a state-level conversation about what and how we define affordable housing. I don’t know what the real desire is, if we have affordable housing like this, what are we looking for? »
Chalder’s study found that about 4,500 local households spend more than 30% of their income on housing. This is considered a financial burden by state housing officials.
Hammersley said it’s important to have homes that don’t strain residents’ finances, but want development led by local planners rather than pushed under threat of litigation.
Hammersley and other planners weren’t optimistic that development of deed-restricted housing would be enough to meet the 10% target. Although some recent developments have included affordable houses or apartments, they have also increased the total amount of housing in town. The city should require that more than 10% of units in these developments remain affordable to gain land.
“You’re chasing your tail. You can almost never get there,” Hammersley said.
According to Chalder’s study, the city has 54 affordable housing units under deed restrictions. Others are planned and proposed.
Supported housing, such as Summer Brook Apartments on Darling Street, totals 319 units. Homes purchased with CHFA and USDA mortgages represent an additional 317 affordable homes.
Southington has the most control over its Housing Authority’s 180 units that are open to low-income elderly and disabled residents. But the four Housing Authority complexes were built decades ago by the state and there are no plans to expand social housing.
Local housing officials said the city has donated land on Main Street, Carter Lane, Pleasant Street and Academy Street for public housing. The state built housing on the four sites between 1968 and 1984.
The Housing Authority’s board is focused on overseeing units already under its control rather than planning for expansion. Stuart Savelkoul, a Democrat on the board, said affordable housing is a complicated issue and the Housing Authority would only be part of it if the opportunity to expand presented itself.
“From a general philosophical standpoint, we’re not necessarily looking to increase the number of available homes as much as making sure what we have is up to the standards we expect,” he said.
Julie Cossette, executive director of the Housing Authority, was among local officials interviewed by Chalder as part of its affordable housing study. The study, mandated by the state, included recommendations for expanding affordable housing options.
Cossette said Chalder asked him if the Housing Authority would be able to oversee more units if the opportunity to build or acquire them arose.
“I would love to do that,” she said.
Cossette oversaw the development of new social housing in New Haven. She is familiar with the process by which a housing authority partners with investors to build subsidized housing. This is the most common way to build social housing.
“I know from experience how to go through the whole process,” Cossette said. “I haven’t had a discussion with my board, the city manager or the city council about how we would do this, how we would add to what we have now.”
Housing authority rents are set at a base rate or 30% of the tenant’s income, whichever is greater. Some residents have Section 8 vouchers that open up Housing Authority housing to very low-income residents, Cossette said.
Journalist Jesse Buchanan can be reached at [email protected]