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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Montville Planning and Zoning Commission approves Affordable Housing Plan

    Montville — The town's Planning and Zoning Commission approved its Affordable Housing Plan in a 7-2 vote Tuesday night.

    The approval comes nearly a month late, as Connecticut municipalities had a June 1 deadline to approve such plans, though there are no consequences for missing the deadline. Democrat Chuck Longton and Republican Anthony Siragusa were the two commissioners who voted against the plan.

    Under Title 8 of the Connecticut General Statutes, municipalities are permitted to regulate land use through local zoning regulations, which set the standards for what types of housing can be constructed. Per CGS 8-30j, which was established in 2017, every municipality in the state must prepare and adopt — or revise and adopt — a plan to increase the available affordable housing within the municipality.

    Housing is considered to be affordable if an individual or family who earns 80% of a town's median income will spend no more than 30% of its income on housing. In the Norwich-New London metro area, 80% of the median income is $82,160 per year for a family of four, so affordable housing would allow them to spend no more than $24,648 per year on housing including utilities, taxes and associated costs.

    Currently, 5.16% of the town's overall housing stock is deemed affordable.

    "Qualified" affordable housing created or maintained under government subsidies or programs is usually intended for occupancy by households earning no more than 80% of median income, and typically has a 40-year deed restriction in order to keep the housing affordable, according to the town's affordable housing plan.

    The approved plan outlines six objectives, the town's current strategies as well as additional strategies the town will implement:

    [naviga:ul]

    [naviga:li]Increasing housing options for elderly residents by considering expanding support for the Elderly/Disabled Tax Relief Program, and inventory town-owned properties that could be suitable for development of housing.[/naviga:li]

    [naviga:li]Supporting first-time homeownership by considering a five-year tax rebate program for first-time homebuyers, creating an information packet with information on homebuying and energy-efficiency programs, considering the use of grants or American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief funds to start a down payment or closing cost assistance program for first-time homebuyers.[/naviga:li]

    [naviga:li]Encouraging diversity in housing supply by implementing policies recommended in the town's 2022 Plan of Conservation and Development, evaluating progress of units built under the town's existing affordable housing regulations, designating areas within sewer district boundaries for higher-density development, consider using ARPA funds or grants to establish an affordable housing fund, working with housing land trusts or other nonprofits to acquire and rehabilitate existing housing for deed-restricted affordable housing.[/naviga:li]

    [naviga:li]Complying with statutory requirements for training Planning and Zoning Commission members on affordable housing issues, process and procedures, the Freedom of Information Act, interpretation of site plans and the impact of zoning on the environment, agriculture and historic resources.[/naviga:li]

    [naviga:li]Updating zoning regulations by deleting references to minimum floor area requirements for housing and adjusting parking requirements to require only one off-street parking space per one-bedroom unit.[/naviga:li]

    [naviga:li]Reviewing the implementation of the plan on semiannual basis and tracking performance measures, including the number of new affordable housing units created and the percentage of renters and homeowners paying more than 30% of their income for housing. [/naviga:li]

    [/naviga:ul]

    As a way to see the plan through, the commission has planned to create a standing Affordable Housing Committee.

    One person spoke during the public hearing in the Council Chambers at Town Hall before the commission voted. Nick Gauthier, a Democratic member of Waterford's Representative Town Meeting commented on the depth of background information in the plan, but he did not "see a lot of plan moving forward." He said he saw similar problems in Waterford's plan.

    "It describes well where we are currently, but I don't see a lot of how we're going to get to a sufficient amount of affordable housing stock overall," Gauthier said of the plan.

    Though Montville's Planning Director Liz Burdick did not comment on Gauthier's observation, she made a point later in the meeting that progress is being made.

    "We already have two developments that are approved that will most likely have affordable housing because they are receiving federal funds," Burdick said in a recording of Tuesday's meeting, which, along with all of the plan's documentation, can be accessed on the town's website at bit.ly/mthousing22.

    The commission now has to wait for the plan to go through the state's Office of Policy and Management before any real action can take place. Though the plan was approved by the commission and has promise, Burdick said it won't be easy to get private developers to commit to a 40-year deed restriction to prevent prices from fluctuating.

    The state statute was put in place in response to the increased cost of housing across the state. The percentage of renters who paid at least 30% of their income toward housing increased from 37% in 2000 to 46% in 2019. In southeastern Connecticut, one in four households earns less than 80% of the area median income and pays more than 30% of their income toward housing, according to the town's affordable housing plan.

    The COVID-19 pandemic, supply-chain issues and the recent increase in gas prices have not helped, either, but Burdick remains hopeful.

    "We're going through a little boom with housing," she said. "The economy's picked up and people are actually building things."   

    k.arnold@theday.com

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