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Affordable Housing , Community Development , Homelessness , Reports and Publications

HousingInCT2013: The Picture’s Grim

22 October 2013

David Fink is the policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities.

When homelessness is up 10%, when two of every five households is spending more than 30 cents of every dollar on housing, when Connecticut has the nation’s 6th most expensive median monthly housing costs, is it possible to say the state’s housing situation has improved?

Yes. But just barely.

The Partnership for Strong Communities released its annual assessment of the housing market, HousingInCT2013, on Thursday and the picture is grim. Yes, the median sales price of a home is slightly more affordable at $268,000, down from $278,000 in 2011. The housing wage – what one must earn per hour to afford a typically 2-bedroom apartment in the state – fell a few cents to $23.22/hour, eighth highest in the nation from 7th a year ago.

But when more than 120,000 renting households are on the verge of homelessness because residents make less than half the state’s median income – and spend more than half of that meager sum on housing – we can only conclude that we are producing homeless households faster than we’re producing homes. In fact, Connecticut is 50th among the states and District of Columbia in housing units built per capita over the last decade. Translation: We don’t have enough supply. And when there’s not enough supply to meet the demand, any Economics 101 student can tell you prices go up. And up.

The problem is that, when 40% of the households in the state spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing – and thus have little left for food, clothing, transportation, healthcare and other necessities – that’s not only bad for them. It’s bad for the state’s economy, and the rest of us!

Plus, the high cost of housing is closely related to individual economic opportunity. Only 31 of the 169 cities and towns have any significant amount of housing that’s affordable to working class people. And those 31 tend to have overburdened schools and fewer community services, with less access to transit and thus to jobs, training programs, education, healthcare and other opportunities. The upshot: a higher educational achievement gap, higher unemployment and fewer prospects.

The outlook is 2/3 empty. What Connecticut has going for it is a Governor and General Assembly that understand the importance of housing affordability and have been offering increasing resources to create the housing we need. But the federal government has cut back significantly. Plus, Connecticut suffers from the second largest wealth disparity in the nation after New York. So, like most goods and services, wealthy state residents drive up the cost of housing – because they can afford the high prices – out of the reach of the bottom two-fifths of wage earners (who saw their incomes fall 4% and remain flat, respectively since 2006).

Fortunately, for the hundreds of thousands of households who need them, Gov. Malloy and Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein are talking to municipalities, offering advice and incentives to move them to create the housing families need in the places they need it – near jobs, transit and good schools. But they would be forgiven if they felt the economy, and Washington, and local resistance to housing creation were working against them.

HousingInCT2013 notes the outlook for the state could be worse, but not a lot worse.

David Fink is the policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities.

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