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State falls short on affordable housing

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published November 14. 2012 4:00AM   Updated November 14. 2012 3:18PM
Report shows lack of units driving up costs for growing number of renters

A lack of affordable housing has hit renters in Connecticut particularly hard over the past few years, according to an annual report released Tuesday.

The report, HousingInCT2012, published by the Hartford affordable-housing advocacy group Partnership for Strong Communities, said that while single-family home prices have declined significantly since the state's housing bubble burst in 2007, renters are facing higher costs. It now takes an annual family income of $49,000 to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in the state, according to the report, up from $29,000 less than a decade ago.

Rents in the state are now the sixth-highest in the nation, the report said, but builders have done little to respond to rental needs. The state recorded the lowest level of housing built per capita in the nation last year.

"The lack of production translated into insufficient supply to meet a growing demand for rental housing," according to the report.

The result has been rising rental costs and a growing problem for renters, with 52 percent paying more than 30 percent of their incomes last year for housing. That's up from just 36.5 percent shelling out the same share of their incomes for rent in 2000.

"More renters are burdened by their home costs, and fewer municipalities across Connecticut have significant stocks of affordable housing options," according to the report.

In fact, only 29 of the state's cities and towns have affordable-housing stock that reached or exceeded the 10 percent threshold last year. A year previously, 31 of the state's 169 municipalities had reached the threshold.

At the same time, the percentage of renters in the state is rising, going from 30 percent to 33 percent of households in just the past two years.

"That's not just temporary; it's structural," said David Fink, policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities, in a phone interview. "The overarching issue in the state ... is that it seems like the housing we have is not the housing we're going to need."

Fink pointed out that many homeowners are burdened by their current properties, despite a drop in real estate prices of nearly 20 percent during the last few years. The report said 36.1 percent of state homeowners paid more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing last year, up from 23.9 percent at the beginning of the millennium.

In Fink's view, both older and younger Connecticut residents are going to be forced over the next few years to reconsider their housing options. Older residents, burdened by taxes and heating costs, will be looking for smaller, more efficient homes near downtowns, while young workers, facing education debts averaging $25,000, are going the be looking for similar living arrangements.

"The market always gets what it wants," Fink said. "The question is who is going to give the market what it wants."

Fink said local communities such as Old Saybrook, East Lyme and New London are doing just that, allowing for denser, more affordable housing. Stonington has cleared the way for 14 affordable units in a 44-unit development off Route 1. Others, such as Ledyard, Montville, North Stonington and Preston, seem to be following suit, he said.

"It's healthier, and some towns are beginning to figure it out," Fink said. "If the towns allow a little more density, allow smaller units - energy efficient, near transit - then suddenly you have a real product to sell for your town."

Fink said towns promoting the types of living arrangements that people crave will be the ones that maintain the mix of ages and abilities needed to promote a thriving community full of potential teachers, police officers, firefighters and other sought-after workers.

"It's just a matter of people recognizing (that) four years ago, when the markets crashed, the whole world changed," Fink said. "And the housing market changed along with it."

l.howard@theday.com

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Key findings

The annual report, HousingInCT2012, published by the Hartford affordable-housing advocacy group Partnership for Strong Communities, found:

• 33 percent of Connecticut households are renters, up from 30 percent just two years ago.

• Connecticut ranks 50th among all 50 states in housing production per capita.

• Connecticut's median single-family home price of $240,000 was well off the 2007 peak of $295,000. But the number of municipalities where 10 percent or more of the housing stock was affordable dropped to 29, from 31.

• The state's housing wage rose to $23.58, the hourly rate a full-time worker in Connecticut must earn to be able to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment. That translates to annual wages of $49,000, up from $29,000 in 2004.

• 26 percent of the state's renters earn less than 50 percent of the state's median income and spend half of that income on housing.

• 52 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing.

• Connecticut is getting older, rising from No. 10 in the nation in terms of the percentage of seniors to ninth oldest in the last Census.

• The wealth disparity in Connecticut continues to increase. Mean household income for the bottom 40 percent of earners dropped slightly, while top earners saw significant gains over the past five years. The highest earners' average wages totaled $239,273, compared with $226,744 in 2006.

Source: HousingInCT2012, based on 2011 statistics

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