Affordable Housing Meetings in Chester and Essex Set Ahead of State Deadlines – Zip06.com

By By Aaron Rubin • 03/08/2022 04:22 p.m. EST

With a state-set June deadline for filing plans to address the affordable housing crunch, Chester, Deep River, and Essex have partnered with the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG) to develop town-specific housing plans meant to address issues related to demographics, transportation, and housing stock and affordability.

A Zoom meeting for the Chester plan is set for Thursday, March 10 and for Essex, March 17, both at 7 p.m. Attendance details can be found at www.rivercog.org, where a recording of the Feb. 17 Deep River meeting is also available.

The town-specific plans are being developed under the umbrella of RiverCOG’s Regional Housing Plan (RHP). The regional analysis provides an overview of housing conditions in the area and makes recommendations on changes that could be made to housing, while the town-specific plans are being created to help towns fulfill statutory requirements for a housing plan addressing affordability by June 1, 2022.

At the meeting, RiverCOG representatives will share and discuss data-driven analyses on links between affordability and demographics of housing in the region, and make recommendations to meet the needs of each represented municipality.

RiverCOG’s research has indicated that its represented towns have sustainability problems with declining overall populations and quickly aging demographics, according to John Guzskowski, a co-founder and principal at Tyche Planning and Policy Group who is working as part of the RiverCOH RHP team.

“Young people don’t find it affordable and don’t have a lot of opportunities to move,” he said. “There’s not a lot of rental housing, and there’s not a lot of what you call starter homes.”

For Guzskowski, the concern for these demographic shifts is pretty clear, with one of the biggest reasons being the lack of affordability and employment opportunities for younger people. According to Guzskowski, this is the result of these towns being residentially focused, and for that reason, not attractive to industry and therefore young people.

“RiverCOG tends to be bedroom communities,” he said. “The headquarters of Google is not going to be in downtown Chester, where [if it were] you’d have thousands and thousands of good-paying jobs. And there’s not a lot of transit opportunities, where you can have a lovely residential community and take a quick train or bus to a job center.”

RiverCOG recently conducted a survey on its website for residents of represented towns to offer input and express concerns on their towns’ future plans for housing options and affordability. Seniors and young families were demographic categories of common concern.

There are bottlenecks related to gaps in housing stock and affordability for both demographics that RiverCOG is looking to address at the meetings. According to Guzskowski, a lack of “generational renewal” is a cause for these hindrances.

For instance, a lack of small homes suitable for seniors may mean existing, larger homes remain unavailable to incoming families.

“Seniors can’t put their homes up for sale, and are remaining in their homes with smaller household sizes, so young families are unable to move into town,” he said. “There’s not enough stock of lower-cost rental or purchase properties for smaller families to move into. The towns just don’t have enough starter options.”

Senior citizens are facing numerous issues in housing stock and affordability as well, which has prevented them from relocating to new housing spaces in the communities in which they strongly prefer to remain living. Many older residents in RiverCOG communities who have called their towns home for multiple decades lack down-sizing opportunities in housing.

“There aren’t a lot of active adult or senior retirement communities,” said Guzskowski. “There aren’t a lot of smaller apartment, condo, or townhouse places where they could stay and remain a resident of their town.”

The RiverCOG will discuss these specific concerns in-depth at the March 10 and 17 meetings. For more information, visit www.rivercog.org.