Norwich – With more than 19% of the city’s housing set aside as affordable, you don’t have to worry about a potential developer invoking state law to bypass local zoning regulations and propose a major housing project.
State law allowing potential zoning excesses applies to cities and towns in which less than 10% of housing is designated as affordable.
But that doesn’t mean Norwich doesn’t have problems with housing affordability, said Kathryn Kress, a community development supervisor, who led efforts to write the city’s state-imposed affordable housing plan. The 17-page plan provides data on the city’s current housing stock and residents’ income levels, and also lists strategies for increasing and improving affordable housing.
The plan is posted under “News” next to the calendar on the home page of the city’s website, www.norwichct.org. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the plan at the start of its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.
Housing is considered affordable if the family pays no more than 30% of its income to cover housing costs, including rent or mortgage and property and utilities tax. US Census data shows that as many as 49% of Norwich households are “cost-burdened,” paying more than 30% of their income for housing costs, including 23% of homeowners who don’t have a mortgage, Chris said. .
Chris said that while city officials were searching for data for the plan, they quickly realized that while the city had a high proportion of affordable housing, housing affordability had to be addressed by city dwellers.
Federal COVID-19 relief grants have helped many families with rent and assistance, but when that money runs out, more people will struggle to pay for housing.
“It’s affordability,” Chris said. “We have a lot of people teetering on the edge. This is the conversation we need to have.”
The Affordable Housing Scheme builds on the 2013 Conservation and Development Plan for guidance on improving housing in the city, directing multi-family housing to areas where public transportation is available, encouraging the rehabilitation of existing buildings, especially historic ones, and reserving rural areas of the city. For single family homes. The plan also encourages the use of various funding sources for affordable housing, such as the Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority, or CHFA, and historic tax credits to renovate older buildings.
Since the plan was published in 2013, the city has approved more than 300 new apartments, a mix of market price and affordable custom units at Taffville’s historic Ponemah Mill. Last year, the city formed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut to use a $1.2 million US bailout grant to build new single-family homes in Greenville and to rehabilitate the many dilapidated homes the city acquired through foreclosures.
Overall, 19.3% of the city’s total of 19,120 housing units are accounted for as affordable housing as defined by state law. Of the 3,608 affordable units listed by the state Department of Housing, 191 have CHFA/USDA single-family mortgages; 2,296 units are government assisted and 796 receive tenant rental assistance.
The city’s housing age is another factor in efforts to improve affordable housing, the plan states, with 38% of Norwich housing units built prior to 1929, and 29% built between 1929 and 1969. The Office of Community Development allocates about 250 thousand dollars annually from the city’s federal community development block grant for interest-free property rehabilitation loans. The loan repayments from previous projects add about $100,000 more to the pool, Chris said.
The office separately has more than $1 million left in a federal grant to combat lead paint, which was also given to homeowners as an interest-free loan.
What the city lacks are requests from landlords to use the funds.
Chris said she was frustrated that despite extensive marketing efforts, few applications were made, especially for anti-lead paint grants. Office staff reached out to local churches, promoted the program on English and Spanish-speaking radio programs, sent out news items on city utility bills, and set up tables outside local malls — including at a Norwich Walmart this weekend.
Part of the problem, she predicted, is that approximately 45% of housing units are not occupied by royalty. Many of the landlords are absentee property owners who live outside the area.
Chris emphasized the programs’ generous terms: rehabilitation loans waived after 10 years with certain conditions, and anti-lead paint loans after five years. Both programs are interest-free loans.
“You can’t do better than that,” she said. “However, people don’t come in and take advantage of it.”