Norwich – With over 19% of the city’s housing stock designated as affordable, Norwich need not worry about a potential developer invoking state law to override local zoning regulations and offer a large housing project.
State law authorizing potential zoning overrides applies to cities and towns with less than 10 percent of their housing defined as affordable.
But that doesn’t mean Norwich doesn’t have housing affordability issues, said community development supervisor Kathryn Crees, who led the effort to draft the city’s state-mandated affordable housing plan. . The 17-page plan provides data on the city’s current housing stock and residents’ income levels and lists strategies to increase and improve affordable housing.
The plan is posted under the “News” label next to the calendar on the home page of the city’s website, www.norwichct.org. City Council will hold a public hearing on the plan at the start of its 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday at City Hall.
Housing is considered affordable if a household spends no more than 30% of its income on housing costs, including rent or mortgage, property tax and utilities. US Census data showed that up to 49% of Norwich households are ‘cost burdened’, paying more than 30% of their income for housing costs, including 23% of homeowners who have no housing costs. mortgage, Crees said.
The Crees said that as city officials researched data for the plan, they quickly realized that even though the city has a high percentage of affordable housing, the affordability of housing by city residents must be addressed.
Federal COVID-19 relief grants have helped many families with rent and utility assistance, but when that money is gone, more people will struggle to pay for housing.
“It’s affordability,” Crees said. “We just have too many people wavering. This is the conversation we need to have.
The Affordable Housing Plan builds on the 2013 Conservation and Development Plan to provide guidance on improving urban housing, orienting multi-family housing to areas with access to public transport, encouraging the rehabilitation of existing buildings, especially historic ones, and the reservation of more rural areas of the city. for single-family homes. The plan also encourages the use of various affordable housing funding resources, such as the Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority, or CHFA, and historic tax credits to renovate older buildings.
Since the release of that 2013 plan, the city has approved more than 300 new apartments, a mix of market price and designated affordable units in the historic Ponemah Factory in Taftville. Last year, the city formed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut to use $1.2 million in US bailout grants to build new single-family homes in Greeneville and to rehabilitate several dilapidated homes that the city acquired through foreclosures.
Overall, 19.3% of the city’s 19,120 housing units are considered affordable housing as defined in state law. Of the 3,608 affordable homes listed on the State Housing Department’s list, 191 have CHFA/US Department of Agriculture single-family mortgages; 2,296 are government subsidized housing and 796 receive rent assistance for tenants.
The age of housing in the city is another factor in the effort to improve affordable housing, the plan says, with 38% of housing in Norwich built before 1929 and 29% built between 1929 and 1969. The development office community allocates approximately $250,000 annually from the city’s federal Community Development Block Grant for interest-free property rehabilitation loans. Loan repayments from past projects add about another $100,000 to the pool, Crees said.
The bureau separately has more than $1 million remaining in a federal lead paint abatement grant, also available to homeowners as an interest-free loan.
What the city is missing are requests from landowners to use the money.
Ms Crees said she was frustrated that despite aggressive marketing efforts, few applications had been submitted, particularly for the lead paint reduction grants. Office staff contacted local churches, promoted the program on English- and Spanish-language radio programs, sent information about city utility bills, and set up tables outside local malls, including included at Norwich Walmart this weekend.
She speculated that part of the problem could be that almost 45% of homes are not owner-occupied. Many owners are absentee owners living outside the region.
The Crees highlighted the generous terms of the programs: rehabilitation loans are repayable after 10 years under certain conditions, and loans for lead paint reduction after five years. Both programs are interest-free loans.
“You can’t get any better than that,” she said. “Yet people don’t come and take advantage of it.”