A positive step, but a small one, in Old Lyme
The lowest priced house currently for sale in Old Lyme is listed at more than $380,000 and has less than 800 square feet of space, one bathroom and two bedrooms, according to the popular real estate website Realtor.com. The average starting teacher’s salary in Connecticut for a person with a bachelor’s degree is about $45,000, according to information from ConnCan, a group that advocates for educational equity in the state.
Given that mortgage calculation tables show that a person earning $45,000 annually can afford a house of only about $86,000, it’s readily apparent there is a wide gap, no, make that a huge gulf, separating actual housing costs in Old Lyme from any housing that is affordable for such a worker. A family of four in Old Lyme actually could earn slightly double the average starting teacher’s salary and still qualify for affordable housing.
Housing is considered affordable when those making 80% of the median income spend no more than 30% of their income on housing expenses such as mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes.
Given such disparities, it was good news that Old Lyme town officials earlier this month recommended the town partner with Habitat for Humanity to develop two affordable single-family houses in town. The Board of Selectmen is expected to endorse the partnership at its June 5 meeting.
We congratulate the town’s Affordable Housing Commission for this proposal and its work to bring more affordable housing options to Old Lyme residents. Habitat for Humanity certainly has a laudable record of success in preparing low- and moderate-income residents for homeownership and matching them with suitable housing. Habitat’s model requires careful vetting of applicants and so-called sweat equity from potential homeowners who put in hours of work pounding nails, painting and performing other tasks to prepare a house for occupancy.
While this partnership seems a promising beginning in Old Lyme, the affordable housing statistics for the town remain dismal and the town’s record of acceptance of affordable housing proposals discouraging. A proposal several years ago by HOPE Partnership of Essex for 37 units of affordable housing on Neck Road was withdrawn after intense local opposition, for example.
According to the most recent Connecticut data, only 1.57% of Old Lyme’s housing stock is considered affordable. Most of those homes are reserved for older adults.
Of course, Old Lyme certainly isn’t alone among pricey Connecticut suburban towns in its dearth of affordable housing. In Old Saybrook, 2.87% of housing units are affordable according to the most recent state data; while Lyme has less than 1% and Madison 1.62%. East Lyme’s numbers, by comparison, seem hefty at 6.74%.
The Connecticut reality is that the vast majority of affordable housing is centered in urban areas. Data shows New London with 22.8% of its housing units considered affordable and New Haven with 33.37%, for example.
It’s not a healthy situation when most of those performing vital roles such as teaching and policing or those working in retail, service and tourism jobs must commute long distances because few local affordable housing options exist. Suburban towns such as Old Lyme must work harder to reduce inequities in housing stock and keep the promise of homeownership alive for its workforce.
We encourage municipal officials in Old Lyme and other suburban towns to stop clinging to the large-lot, single-family home model when considering affordable housing options. The two houses likely to be developed by Habitat for Humanity are to be located on individual three-acre lots.
We also encourage all towns to pick up the pace at which affordable housing is being developed. It’s expected to take more than a year to develop the two Old Lyme houses, for example.
The state passed a law 34 years ago providing incentives aimed at seeing that all towns have at least 10% of housing units considered affordable. Too many towns continue to fall far short of that goal. Too much local opposition to affordable housing proposals continues to be waged. Connecticut towns must do better for their moderate-income workers.
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 Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser, retired executive editor Tim Cotter 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.