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Affordable Housing , Community Development

Innovative State Program Lets Towns Tailor Their Own Affordable Housing

20 August 2013

In 1987, when the Sharon Housing Authority created a three-phase plan to bring affordable housing to this rural community, the Commissioners could not have conceived how complex such housing development would become. 

Today, developers use a variety of local, state, federal and private financing mechanisms to deliver quality projects.  Although a project may be attractive on paper, without local support a project will fail.  To ensure local support, a project must be crafted to respond sensitively and thoughtfully to that community’s need.   

The Incentive Housing Zone (IHZ) legislation empowers towns to align their affordable housing needs with their town-wide development goals, such as a project’s proximity to town centers and transportation.  Advanced by the HOMEConnecticut campaign championed by the Partnership for Strong Communities, IHZ legislation allows towns the flexibility under zoning to approve increased density on specific, strategically located parcels in exchange for a set aside of the developed units to be affordable.  Density – the number of units in a project – creates the economies of scale needed to develop financially feasible developments.  By packaging these parcels in advance, towns lay the foundation for developers to create successful projects in partnership with the community.

In 2010, the Town of Sharon approved its IHZ on the site of the existing Housing Authority development at Sharon Ridge.  The twelve new apartments, across three buildings, will include eight one-bedroom apartments and four two-bedroom apartments, and will all be affordable. The project will maximize energy efficient technologies (including geothermal heating/cooling) and the design will blend with the existing buildings and surrounding community.   The IHZ, enacted through a multi-stakeholder effort, created a clear path for the Sharon Ridge expansion to move smoothly through the local zoning approval process. The project broke ground in June and completion is expected next summer.  

By partnering with community groups, local leaders and service providers, the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development creates affordable housing that enhances residents’ quality of life, increasing their ability to be successful in housing and move toward economic independence.  As the development consultant to the Sharon Housing Authority, we were thrilled to utilize this important legislation that effectively empowered the Sharon community to influence how affordable housing will be developed in its backyard. 

Kathryn Shafer is the Development and Program Manager at the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development.

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