Winsted housing committee plans public forum for future planning – Torrington Register Citizen

WINSTED — Winsted is examining its housing needs for its 11,000 residents, many who say they can’t afford to rent or buy a home in town.

The Winsted Housing Plan Steering Committee, a group that includes members of the Board of Selectmen, Mayor Todd Arcelaschi, the land use office, the town’s housing authority, Realtors and other members of the public, has met monthly since October 2021.

In November, members created and posted a survey to collect data for its own study of available housing and housing needs. Full details, meeting minutes and presentations can be found at townofwinchester.org.

At least once every five years, every municipality in Connecticut is required to prepare or amend and adopt an affordable housing plan, with the goal of creating “a proactive Planning process and lay out a strategy for meeting the housing needs of existing and future residents and workers” as required by state statute Section 8-30j. The committee’s plan is due by June.

The Partnership for Strong Communities’ housing data, a free resource available to residents, developers, legislators and municipal officials, was used to develop the survey’s questions. The committee’s work, including public input from the survey and forums, plays a big role in developing this plan, officials said.

Winsted’s housing survey received 283 responses, and it remains open to collect more data before an informational meeting set for March 3, where the committee will talk about the survey’s results.

Leading the committee is Jocelyn Ayer from the Northwest Hills Council of Governments, who is conducting the same work with 10 other towns in Litchfield County. During a Feb. 9 meeting, the committee went over the results with Ayer, who said 283 results was “pretty good.”

“More would be better, but we can leave the survey open,” she said. “If you’re a resident and you haven’t taken the survey yet, please do, and come to the forum.”

Along with residents, the committee also surveyed students and people who work in Winsted, but don’t necessarily live in town.

“We had more (responses from) students from outside of town, about half from Torrington,” Ayer said. “I thought it was interesting that 63 percent of the students said they’d like to live in Winsted now or in the future, and they also said they were looking for studio or one- or two-bedroom apartments to rent.”

According to Ayer, nearly 61 percent of the survey’s respondents were homeowners. Others own multi-family homes, where they live and also rent to a tenant. Smaller percentages of the responders own a townhouse or condominium, or rent an apartment or a single-family home.

When asked what economic challenges they faced involving their housing, some respondents said they thought utilities were too high, while others said mortgages, taxes and insurance were too expensive, and tenants said they paid too much for rent.

Ayer set some goals for the committee to consider at its next meeting. In the survey’s results, she saw a concern from seniors to “age in place” in their homes, as well as an interest in one-floor senior housing or downsizing options, and a call for more student housing.

First-time home buyer options and a concern about Winsted’s aging housing stock — estimated to be around 1970, according to the PSC’s data — also stood out for Ayer.

“There’s also a need for resources for people who want to rehabilitate older properties and upgrade them,” she said.

Committee member and Realtor Christine Harrington said people are telling her they can’t afford to find a place to live in town.

“Rentals are through the roof,” she said. “More needs to be done for that.”

Selectwoman and former mayor Candy Perez, who is also on the committee, agreed.

“I think the affordability for people, with the properties we have — they’re too high. People are getting priced out of everything,” she said. “Houses that (are available) are high, and for apartments, the rents are jacked up so high.”

The increased cost of rentals and houses, according to a December 2021 story from the Associated Press, was driven in 2020 and 2021 by available units selling quickly, as people relocated from New York in search of a new home, or residents choosing to stay, rather than sell their existing home, because of changes brought on by the pandemic.

“The lack of inventory adds to a larger problem in Connecticut and nationwide: There’s a lack of housing supply, particularly that’s affordable to people with low incomes, experts and studies have shown,” according to AP. “The state has some of the oldest housing in the country. Price increases mean that it’s more difficult for people with lower incomes to afford a home.”

Member Jayne Martigneni, executive director of the Winsted Housing Authority, agreed that affordable housing isn’t easy to find.

“I get calls from people, looking for affordable rentals, but what’s affordable,” she said.

Perez said Winsted and Torrington carry the weight of people seeking rentals and homes, because both towns have a larger inventory and more opportunities.

“The only affordable housing in the Northwest Corner is in Torrington and Winsted,” she said. “If other towns don’t create more opportunities, it comes to us. So how do we push other towns to carry their weight? That’s what’s happening to us now. You see it almost every day.”

Ayer said those concerns are why the Litchfield County Center For Housing Opportunities was founded.

“I’m hoping that center can bring more resources to all of our towns, so people can live closer to where they work, and age in the community where they live, if they want to,” she said. “The challenge is regional, and everyone needs to play their part.”

The Winsted Housing Plan Steering Committee will hold its public forum at 7 p.m. March 3. Details will be posted at townofwinchester.org on how to attend. To take the housing survey, go to www.townofwinchester.org/HousingSurvey