Town Council Adopts Affordable Housing Plan
Following a year of preparation by the East Haven Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, the East Haven Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC), and the South Central Regional Council of Governments, the East Haven Town Council approved its 2022-’27 Affordable Housing Plan (AHP) on March 7.
Included in the meticulously compiled plan are the many goals and strategies that spell out the town’s broad direction toward the issue of affordable housing. Its mission is “to provide for a variety of housing choices in East Haven for people and families of all income, ages, and characteristics.”
Effective as of July 24, 2017, Connecticut General Statutes, Title 8, Chapter 126a § 8-30j requires that every municipality in Connecticut prepare an AHP at least once every five years. Now, with adoption of this plan finally going to fulfill that state requirement, the town’s overarching mission will be to meet General Statute 8-30g, which, as enacted in 1989, mandates that at least 10% of a municipality’s housing stock must be deemed, “affordable,” according to the state Department of Housing.
This AHP states that 7.84% of East Haven’s housing stock is considered “affordable.” However, the actual number is 8.27%, or 1,037 total units, according to Land Use Attorney Jennifer Coppola.
“That was principally the result of picking up 70 units of government-assisted [housing],” she said.
Coppola said those units were picked up by February 2022 as the AHP was being drafted, but that the 7.8% figure will be included in the official plan sent to the state due to the requirement that the town use numbers from the years prior to the formal adoption of the plan.
Housing units that are considered “affordable” are those intended for potential tenants whose incomes are equal to or below 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). Figures derived from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in the AHP establish the AMI in the New Haven area for a four-person household as $99,700, with $79,760 at the 80th percentile of that calculation. An estimation in the plan from the American Community Survey calculates that the median household income for East Haven was at about $67,800 in 2020, or below the 70th percentile.
The plan also arrives at a time of large financial strain felt among many town residents, as the American Community Survey also determines that 43% are struggling to pay housing costs.
One of the biggest goals of the AHP is to provide affordable housing for families and individuals “who cannot afford current market-rate housing prices,” and to provide housing in support of senior citizens that are likely to remain in town.
Preserving and maintaining East Haven’s existing housing stock remains a significant priority, while there is also a goal of developing affordable units in existing structures, as well “to focus on identifying naturally occurring affordable housing units and explore the adoption of incentives to establish same as deed restricted affordable units,” according to the plan.
In an effort to realize its goals, the plan lists a total of 15 strategies for housing over the succeeding four years, including those that are highlighted as a “top ten” group of administrative and development actions to implement in the duration of the plan.
Within the former category, the first of the “top ten” strategies is to establish a permanent affordable housing committee or commission that would be tasked to implement the AHP and “prepare future such plans.”
The second goal of the “top ten” schema is to create a Housing Trust Fund, which would be a repository account for the town specifically to support affordable housing efforts.
“The entity administering the fund would define priorities and eligible activities money in the fund could be used for,” the plan states.
On the development side of the plan, a strategy for the East Haven Housing Authority to investigate how public housing can be provided to meet the needs of families, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens. The plan emphasizes the need for seniors on fixed incomes, stating that “as the senior population grows and more seniors are on fixed incomes, the need for deeply affordable units for seniors will increase over time.”
Five routes in town are identified in the plan as locations for the new development of various forms of affordable housing. One of these includes the most western part of Foxon Road, where its big box and retail plazas could be redeveloped to include multifamily or mixed-use housing developments. Opportunities to construct new residential projects in areas “where surface parking may exceed what is needed to support the businesses,” according to the plan.
Segments of Main Street West and East are two other major routes identified. While the most western part of the former street has the same considerations for the targeted area of Foxon Road, a northeastern section Main Street East is described in the plan as a possible location for development. This may see redeveloping larger retail buildings and some smaller single-story retail plazas, both which could include upper-story housing options. The plan suggests these mixed-use buildings could “continue the retail presence along Main Street, but add some housing options and added customer base through strategic redevelopment.”
Despite a large chunk of the town population struggling financially, not everyone in East Haven sees a great need for additional affordable housing. A survey conducted by the advisory committee in 2022 found that out of 577 respondents, 48% of town residents believed there was a sufficient quantity of housing to meet future needs, while 28% felt there was not enough. The remaining 24% said they were unsure.
Survey results also found that while 48% of respondents said increased housing choices would benefit East Haven, 52% said no. Respondents were “generally more inclined to think that more rental housing would have a negative impact on East Haven,” according to the plan. Of the respondents, 44% said there would be a positive impact, with 35% unsure.
With public opinion expressed, the town will continue to educate residents and promote awareness and understanding of affordable housing through the establishment of an education campaign as its final “top ten” strategy. Such a campaign will include “outreach, forums, print and online materials for residents,” in order to “facilitate better community understanding of housing needs, what affordable housing is in East Haven, and the benefits affordable housing provides,” according to the plan.