Groton explores ways to encourage more affordable housing – theday.com

Groton — The town is considering how to bring more affordable housing to the community and maintain its current stock, at a time when housing prices are rising and becoming less affordable to many residents.

That’s one of the key considerations outlined in a recent draft affordable housing study that was presented to the Town Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday.

Groton, home to Electric Boat, Pfizer and the Naval Submarine Base, “is projected to grow in both its resident population and employment base by the year 2030 placing pressure on the existing housing stock” and “likely indicating continued price escalation for both ownership and rental units,” according to the report.

Overall, the plan found that Groton’s housing market is “very healthy” with reasonable turnover and a “wide range of housing types,” but housing vacancy is “slowly dropping, indicating a tightening of supply at a time when prices (particularly for-sale units) are increasing significantly.”

Groton’s rising housing prices and income levels are “creating immense pressure on the lowest income households to keep up or move out,” which “may result in less racial and economic diversity in some neighborhoods and push those households further from the jobs and services they depend on,” the report states.

The study recommends placing affordable housing in more locations in town and also investing to improve existing housing in the City of Groton, the south Poquonnock Bridge neighborhood and the west side of Center Groton.

Jon Reiner, the town’s director of planning and development services, said about 23% of Groton’s year-round housing stock meets the state’s definition of affordable housing. That definition includes housing occupied by people receiving governmental assistance and housing financed by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and/or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It also includes deed-restricted properties sold or rented at or below market prices for persons or families whose income is less than or equal to 80% of the area median income, which for Groton was $66,657 in 2015-19, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The study states that while Groton exceeds the state’s goal of having 10% of housing stock as affordable, “about half of the deed-restricted units are available to Navy members and their families first with any additional units available to the general public.”

Reiner said the study contemplates ways to increase both deed-restricted affordable housing and housing that is not deed-restricted but is considered affordable due to its price.

Changing demographics

Groton’s population is projected to increase by 1,509 residents between 2019 and 2030, after decreasing by 1,082 residents between 2000 and 2019, the study states. People aged 25 to 34, followed by people 55 and older, are the two “fastest growing” age groups, while the number of people aged 35 to 54 and the school-aged population decreased between 2010 and 2019.

Groton’s population became more diverse between 2010 and 2019, with 1,950 new Hispanic and Latino residents, the most significant growth, according to the report. Over that period, the town also saw 770 more residents who identify as two or more races and 710 more residents who identify as Black or African American, the report states.

The town also saw an increase in single-person households over the period, as well as an uptick in larger households of seven or more people, showing a demand for both smaller units and substantially larger units, the study found.

Groton households earning above $75,000 increased — with a significant jump in renters earning $75,000 or more — and residents with bachelor’s or advanced degrees increased by 21% over that period, the study found.

The study’s key findings on Groton’s housing market include that more than half of the town’s housing stock is single-family homes, median home values decreased by 5.2% between 2010 and 2019, while median sale prices started rising in 2016, and rents have been increasing between 2010 and 2019.

Recommendations

The study offers ideas to maintain and expand affordable housing opportunities, ranging from zoning changes and the use of public land for housing, to potential programs in which employers help employees with housing, such as down payments forgiven over a period of time, homeownership education, rental subsidies or a contribution to a housing development, or a rental assistance program through the town.

Further recommendations include policies for properties to have an accessory dwelling unit — essentially a separate living unit on the same property as a larger residence — and exploring new options for senior housing.

The study suggests the town implement policies so tenants are not displaced when an existing housing development undergoes renovations or redevelopment, such as offering developers tax incentives in exchange for affordable restrictions or using the proposed Housing Trust Fund to purchase units and place income restrictions on them.

The study also recommends the town implement regulations for Inclusionary Zoning, “a policy used to create affordable housing by requiring developers” to set aside a percentage of units as affordable in market-rate developments.

Creating an affordable housing trust fund is another recommendation. Money from the trust fund could go toward assistance, such as “emergency rental assistance,” “gap financing for new construction of affordable units,” repairs for existing affordable dwellings, weatherization programs, “down payment and closing assistance,” “foreclosure prevention,” and “lead abatement program,” according to the study.

The town also could look into a first-time homebuyer assistance program and senior tax relief programs.

The study recommends that the town work “with non-profits, housing agencies, banks, and employers” as it tries to expand housing opportunities. For example, the town could partner with Habitat for Humanity.

State requiring affordable housing plans

The state requires every municipality to adopt an affordable housing plan by July 1, and then to update it every five years, according to the report.

The town received a $15,000 state grant to help develop the study. The town hired RKG Associates Inc., which worked with a town steering committee and held public workshops last April and June, Reiner said.

The council plans to forward the draft plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission for its input and schedule a public hearing for April 5.

Councilors asked questions and offered comments on Tuesday. Reiner said the town will get into the details of how to implement recommendations from the plan after it is adopted.

A study of Groton’s overall housing market was presented last fall.

k.drelich@theday.com