Organization seeks housing designation

Norwich - The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments is asking the state to recognize housing in its member towns that is affordable but currently lacks an official designation as such.

Doing so, would allow towns to count such units toward the percentage of its housing stock that is deemed affordable under state law. Currently, there has to be a stipulation in land records that units are affordable under state requirements to be considered affordable. While the rental or purchase price of other units would be considered affordable under state guidelines, they are not counted because there is no land record stipulation.

This is important because under state law, in communities that have less than 10 percent of its housing stock dedicated as affordable, developers of housing projects that include some affordable housing can be exempt from meeting local zoning regulations. If a town rejects such a project it must prove the reasons it did so involve the health and safety of the community and outweigh the need for affordable housing.

Some council representatives told state Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein Wednesday that the region has much low-cost housing that is just not deeded affordable.

"I believe Southeastern Connecticut has a lot of affordable housing that is not designated as affordable housing," said COG Chairman and Salem First Selectman Kevin Lyden.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said there are houses and rental units in eastern Connecticut that are affordable but lack the land-record designation that officially makes them affordable.

Osten, Sprague's first selectwoman, said it can potentially put communities at risk if they don't have enough affordable housing. In some cases, she said, this takes away land that could be preserved for farmland, in towns such as Sprague, Lisbon and Ledyard.

Without housing being legally designated as affordable "some municipalities are being coerced, or forced, into accepting developments that are inappropriate for where they are," said Osten, who has also met with the commissioner to discuss the issue.

"That is a challenge," said Klein in response, agreeing that when her office compiles lists there are many rental units that could qualify as affordable. She suggested that towns create master plans that could help developers and municipalities better understand and discuss the construction of affordable housing.

In a phone interview, Osten said other factors - including rental costs, assessed and retail values of a house, and a dwelling's location - should be considered in determining what is designated as affordable housing. She said affordable housing that can help beginning professionals to settle in a community should not be confused with subsidized and voucher-housing programs.

Both, however, count toward a community's percentage of affordable housing stock.

Klein also updated the council Wednesday on available affordable housing grants and announced her plans to continue to meet with mayors and selectmen across the state to talk about funding.

Klein addressed key goals for the state: transit-oriented development projects, fair housing and initiatives to end homelessness. She also explained the department's commitment to move lower-income families to "higher opportunity districts," where the families will not only live in stable housing, but will have greater access to jobs and education.

k.drelich@theday.com

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