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    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

    Lyme officials consider business plan for affordable housing

    Lyme ― Officials charged with figuring out where affordable housing fits in town ― and who should live there ― want to create a business plan so they can act fast in a seller’s real estate market.

    Members of the town’s Affordable Housing Commission this week discussed a model that would leverage town funds and private donations, along with the possibility of some nonprofit partnerships.

    But the importance of local control loomed large in a town where talk has revolved around small-scale options for current residents, including young volunteer firefighters and older residents who need to downsize.

    Commission member and First Selectman David Lahm said the business plan is critical if the commission seeks funding in the 2024-25 budget, which is being crafted now. The allocation would have to be approved by selectmen, the Board of Finance and then voters at a May town meeting.

    Commission Co-Chairwoman Carol House suggested asking for $500,000. That allocation was met with agreement from most members but hesitation from the first selectman.

    “That might be a lot,” Lahm said.

    House said the commission has been working for several years to identify the need for affordable housing in town and to scout potential properties. With one relatively low-priced option on the market now and one adjacent parcel that could become available, she said “things are starting to come about.”

    Real estate listings show a three-bedroom home on 1.35 acres at 509-1 Hamburg Road listed for $179,000. House said there have also been negotiations with the owner of the 6.7-acre property next door that is “going to be on the market soon.”

    The proximity to a larger parcel is key to a framework described by House that could include rehabilitation of the single-family home or construction of a new home as well as the creation of multifamily duplexes or a cluster of small rental homes nearby. She said partnering with nonprofit affordable housing groups and obtaining grant funding could be part of the business plan.

    Lahm’s preference was to keep the funding stream local so the town can maintain control over who lives in any new or refurbished homes. He said outside partners would prevent the town from establishing “selection criteria” that prioritizes people who live or work in town.

    “The purpose in my mind is to provide affordable housing that benefits Lyme, for first responders, for our elderly, for teachers,” he said. “And you lose that control when you bring in the nonprofits.”

    But House, who said she’s lived in town for only seven years, identified herself as an outsider.

    “I think what we’ve got is a table spread of options,” she said. “And we can have some things that are only paid for with town money and some things that are paid for by bringing in money from other sources: from nonprofits, from grants. We don’t have to narrow what we’re looking for, because we’ve got a lot of needs that need to be served and I think we can try different things.”

    The town has experience with the rehabilitation model, but not with the multifamily approach.

    Lyme over the past 20 years has built just over a dozen affordable, deed-restricted single-family homes to sell “one at a time,” according to House. But data from the state Department of Housing shows the percentage of affordable homes remains the lowest in New London County at 0.9% of Lyme’s total housing stock.

    The town has $200,000 in its affordable housing reserve fund started with private donations for those who live and work in town. But the process for accessing the funds requires numerous approvals and time-intensive public notice requirements.

    Providing funding for the commission through a specific line item of the town operations budget would streamline the process by requiring only Board of Selectmen approval when it comes time to access the funds, Lahm said. The move could allow the commission to act in as few as 24 hours on the purchase of a property.

    The commission’s progress also relies on the creation of zoning regulations allowing multifamily housing. An amendment to the regulations creating a special permit for affordable housing is being drafted by town attorney Micheal Carey.

    A maximum of 20 units, with no more than four per building, would be allowed in an affordable housing development as long as there are no more than three units per acre.

    Commission members at the Wednesday meeting repeatedly emphasized the need to be “nimble” in a seller’s market.

    On Friday, the sale of the property the commission had been eyeing on Hamburg Road was listed as pending. Lahm in a phone interview said he didn’t know anything about the status of the listing.

    “We don’t have any money allocated and we can’t sign a contract without money,” he said.

    The listing agent for the property did not return a call for comment.

    House in a phone call Friday emphasized members of the commission have been talking to property owners and keeping tabs on what might be coming on the market.

    “And we are trying to get ourselves in a place where we can actually move forward with one,” she said.

    e.regan@theday.com

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