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Affordable Housing , Community Development

Addressing Housing in Connecticut’s Rural Areas

17 June 2014

Katy Shafer is a policy analyst for the Partnership for Strong Communities.

Last year, the Connecticut Housing Coalition guided the formation of an affinity group, the Emerging Leaders Network (ELN).  Recognizing the significant gap in age, experience, and institutional knowledge between today’s Executive Directors and staff, ELN aims to engage, cultivate and learn from the next generation of leaders in the fields of housing and community development.  Policy & Communications Analyst Diana Deng and I co-chair the ELN Policy Committee.  The value of advancing the state’s emerging leaders is similarly promoted through the Partnership’s Young Energetic Solutions (YES) Initiative.

Early on, the group realized that its experience had mainly been in Connecticut’s larger cities.  So last week, ELN hosted a ‘Rural Housing Field Trip’ to the northwest Litchfield hills.  The group toured the multi-family rental development South Commons in Kent, engaged in conversation with social service providers from Sharon, Warren, Kent and New Milford, and observed the quarterly meeting of the Northwest Hills Council of Governments Regional Housing Group

Excluding the region’s two cities, just 2.4% of the 29,800 housing units is affordable. The population of school age children in Litchfield County is projected to decline by 20% by 2025, the greatest decline of all the counties, and the median age (44 years old) is the oldest in the state.  The median age of a volunteer on the ambulance service in one town is 52 years old, the second grade class size in another town is just two children.  Housing affordability, in tandem with employment creation and growth, plays an important role in maintaining the economic vibrancy of these bucolic communities. 

Often limited by lack of infrastructure and the ability to achieve the scale needed for financial feasibility, the region has developed innovative solutions to create affordable housing – from accessory apartments to converted large Victorian homes, in addition to utilizing multi-family finance sources designed for rural areas, such as the USDA’s Rural Development programs.  Resources common in larger cities to ameliorate housing instability, such as RAP and Section 8, are virtually non-existent.

Today, 114 of our 169 municipalities have a housing stock comprised of at least 70% detached single-family homes, mostly built from 1970 for the now baby boomer population and their then-growing families.  These towns lack the housing supply needed for the state’s current demographics – an aging population looking to downsize but stay in their communities and Millennials overwhelmed by student debt and low wages.  Both groups are seeking smaller, more affordable, energy efficient housing options walkable to amenities and proximate to transit.  The demand for multi-family rental housing is resounding.

“I don’t think I realized [what it’s like out here]” commented one participant after another.  ELN is actively engaging with stakeholders statewide to ensure its members develop a comprehensive understanding of Connecticut’s diverse housing landscape and opportunities for successfully creating housing choice in all of the state’s communities.  For more information, follow @ct_emerging. 

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