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Affordable Housing , Community Development

Speed Dating For Affordable Housing? Why Not?

20 May 2014

David Fink, Partnership for Strong Communities’ Policy Director

Dozens of Connecticut municipalities want to create a wider array of housing options: rentals, condos, townhomes, all at higher densities, more affordable and walkable to their train stations and town centers. Dozens of developers and consultants are hoping to meet the demand in a housing market that has turned decidedly toward multifamily options – smaller, denser, affordable, near shopping and recreation, walkable to services and close to transit if possible.

What to do?

Why, speed dating!

The Partnership for Strong Communities, recognizing that the towns didn’t know how to contact developers and realizing that the developers had no idea so many towns were interested in multifamily housing creation, held an enormously successful event on May 12 at The Lyceum in Hartford. More than 120 town officials, builders, developers, lenders, lawyers and consultants took part.

Click here if you are having problems viewing the slide show. 

Titled “Multifamily Speed Dating: Meet the Town – Or Developer – Of Your Dreams,” the afternoon seemed to guarantee there’ll be dates aplenty. Municipal officials – planners, community development directors, first selectmen – reported contacts with many developers interested in visiting, walking potential sites, offering ideas and maybe – just maybe – a longer, deeper relationship!

“Look at this, I’ve got a fistful of business cards,” said Jason Vincent of Norwich Community Development Corporation. “This has been excellent.”

The event was preceded by presentations by Connecticut’s key leaders in housing policy. Suzanne Piacentini, Connecticut Field Office Director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development described the changing nature of the housing market, not just in Connecticut but across the country, and reiterated the increasing demand for multi-family rental housing.  Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein and Eric Chatman, the president of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, detailed the financing programs their agencies offer and their willingness to streamline the process for developers so housing can be created quickly. Tim Sullivan, who oversees Brownfield redevelopment and Transit-Oriented Development at the Department of Economic and Community Development, talked about the state’s efforts to marry affordable housing, transit and economic and job growth. He particularly pointed to brownfield remediation funding and the state’s new TOD pre-development fund, low-cost financing for developers along the Springfield-New Haven commuter rail line and CTfastrak.

Betsy Crum, now executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition but also a former municipal official and developer, explained what developers and towns need from each other. And a panel of young professionals detailed their housing desires – walkable, close to transit, affordable – so towns and developers would know there is, indeed, a market for what they intend to build.
The speed-dating event lasted 90 minutes. Developers went down long tables of towns, stopping to collect development information, exchange business cards and understand the potential deals they could make.

“This was fantastic. Are you going to do it again?” asked Bob Wiedenmann of Sunwood Development.

“Count on it,” said Kathryn Shafer, a Partnership policy analyst.

Materials from the event:

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