New London County officials dissect affordable housing plans with an eye on solutions
New London ― Area officials on Wednesday discussed the challenges they faced in crafting state-mandated community affordable housing plans, as well as their plans to shift from theory to implementation.
The Affordable Housing Plans forum at Connecticut College was held less than a week after the release of a “scorecard” document grading all New London County municipalities on their progress toward creating more affordable housing in their communities.
The report, crafted by the Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity in Eastern CT, Desegregate CT and Regional Plan Association, gave the region an average score of 2.5 out of 5 points.
CHEO Director Beth Sabilia said the scorecard was a snapshot in time with data culled directly from town and city submissions and grades based on state Department of Housing guidelines.
Sabilia said the scores were not meant as a shaming mechanism, but rather as an instrument to spur communities to focus on practical steps to increase affordable housing options.
“We don’t want these plans to sit on a shelf,” she said. “We want communities to begin looking at regional ways to support planning, sending out grant applications and getting tech support to make those plans happen.”
The panel forum, attended by more than 70 people, many of them local planning and zoning officials, featured Ledyard Mayor Fred Allyn III; Montville Director of Land Use and Development Liz Burdick; and Pete Harrison, executive director of Desegregate CT.
Panelists spoke of the challenges in completing their affordable housing road maps, with one of the biggest hurdles revolving around resident misconceptions of what constitutes affordable housing.
Panelists said too often residents conflate affordable housing with public housing such as the former Crystal Avenue apartments in New London.
“Affordable housing conversations stimulate the worst in people who are thinking of what it isn’t, really,” Allyn said. “It looks different in every community.”
Burdick said public participation in the creation of her town’s plan was poor, though a municipal survey sent to residents led to 81 responses, many voicing support for senior and family housing.
Harris said residents tend to not get involved in affordable housing conversations until it affects them or someone they know directly.
“You see that when developments are proposed, people freak out,” he said.
Both Allyn and Burdick represented towns that did well on the scorecard grading curve, which used a 0-5 scoring system based on percentages earned on four topics: submission of plan; planning progress; needs assessment; and recommended actions.
Ledyard led the region with a 3.5 score, while Montville was one of four municipalities, along with Voluntown, Old Lyme and Waterford, logging a higher-than-average score of 3.
New London Mayor Michael Passero was less than enthusiastic about the report. New London, like Norwich, was given a 2.5 score, prompting Passero earlier in the day to describe the report as a “foolish” document lacking nuance and context.
In a phone interview ahead of Wednesday’s forum, Passero said the report possesses no practical value and draws unfair comparisons between municipalities.
He noted New London has over the years steadily increased its affordable housing stock to nearly 25%, while Ledyard’s hovers below 5%.
“And they get praised for having something like a glamorous website,” he said. “It’s absurd and the report offers very little practical applications. Cities like New London and Norwich are in the trenches on these issues and lead the region in access to affordable housing and should be held up as case studies.”
Sabilia said while some communities “excelled and some did not,” it’s crucial to see the larger picture in a county with a shortfall of 10,000 affordable residences, rising rents and where the dream of homeownership is fading.
“Six years ago, we weren’t even having these conversations,” she said. “Now, it’s time to transform plans to concrete actions.”
In the bedroom community of Ledyard, Allyn said, that might mean adding housing to the town’s commercial hubs or looking at what towns on the other side of the country have made work.
“We wanted to look at what we can implement now, those quick solutions, as well as intermediate and long-term goals,” he said.
Editor’s note: This version corrects the spelling of the event moderator’s name and company name in photo captions.