Take a small but important step toward affordable housing in Old Lyme
A staggering 42 percent of Connecticut’s millennials are living with their parents, according to the Partnership for Strong Communities, a statewide housing policy organization.
These young people aren’t choosing to return to the nest because they are lazy or adrift. It’s because too often Connecticut’s stagnant salaries and job market, combined with expensive housing, college loan debts, high health care costs and commuting expenses put financial independence out of their reach.
This is not just the case for those who may be working lower paying jobs while searching for a gig within their field – this is reality for many who have already begun professional careers as teachers, marketing professionals, health care workers and in many other fields.
No wonder Connecticut’s young people are heading to more affordable regions.
This situation promises to become more acute in the next few years as workers move into the region to support job growth at Electric Boat and associated industries, creating a housing shortage and more upward pressure on housing prices and rentals. It is a good problem to have, as some have noted, but it is a problem nonetheless. Connecticut can only realize the full economic potential of the EB expansion if working people, up and down the income spectrum, can afford to live in the area.
Old Lyme, one among many affluent shoreline locales with a dearth of affordable housing, now has an opportunity to make one small step toward smoothing the path to financial independence for at least a few struggling residents. HOPE Partnership and The Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development proposed building a 37-unit community, 29 units of it priced at levels considered affordable, on a 6.6-acre tract just south of Interstate 95 on Route 156 in Old Lyme.
We urge Old Lyme officials and residents to embrace this proposal called River Oak Commons. A Zoning Commission public hearing is scheduled May 14, providing plenty of time for those curious about HOPE’s work to explore one its developments completed just across the Connecticut River in Old Saybrook.
That project, called Ferry Crossing, encompasses 16 homes ranging from one- to three-bedrooms. The units are located in traditional New England-style buildings with wrap-around porches and plenty of grassy areas – the type of neighborhood that blends seamlessly into the local landscape. Drawings of the proposed River Oak Commons show buildings similar in appearance to those at Ferry Crossing.
HOPE was formed by a local church when volunteers saw many of the children participating in its homework club move from marginal housing in local motels to even more unstable conditions in tents at local campgrounds once tourists flooded the region for the summer.
While many suburban residents may not recognize the dire need for affordable housing within their communities, there is plenty of data, along with anecdotal evidence such as that demonstrated by the homework club participants, to back up the claim. In 2017, the state Department of Housing found that only 1.7 percent of Old Lyme’s housing stock is considered affordable. Half of the town’s renters and 27 percent of its homeowners pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to data from the Partnership for Strong Communities. Further, the Partnership shows that 93 percent of Old Lyme’s housing is in the form of larger, single-family homes, with many fewer housing options for those just starting out or seeking to downsize.
The so-called housing wage for the town – that is, the hourly wage needed to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment – is $20.71. In other words, it takes an annual salary of more than $43,000 – well above the starting range of many jobs in the region - to be able to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment. This also assumes such an apartment is actually available, although that’s not likely to be so.
Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsynder, who serves on HOPE’s advisory council, has said she supports the group’s mission to bring affordable housing to the region and that providing such housing is important to Old Lyme.
We agree. Residents should trust that the town’s land use officials will ensure the proposal meets municipal regulatory standards and embrace that River Oak Commons can help fill a need for a diversity of residents who are struggling financially.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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