1%? The housing challenge deserves a much bigger investment
Solving the state’s affordable housing crisis has not been a priority by spending $1.5 billion in stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. According to an analysis of the data, cities in Connecticut have so far allocated only about 1% of pandemic relief assistance to housing needs.
Unfortunately, and inexcusably, the housing issue has received little attention despite specific language allowing for allocations for such things as the development and preservation of affordable housing, homelessness assistance, mortgage assistance and planning strategies to solve housing problems.
Those who stand to benefit the most if cities devote more relief funds to providing affordable housing are the very people who have served on the front lines during the pandemic – workers in retail and those in service industries who do not. couldn’t stay home and do their jobs and who are on the lower end of the pay scale.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that, on average, a Connecticut renter needs to earn about $57,000 a year to find affordable rent, defined as spending no more than one-third of their income on an apartment. The same group estimates Connecticut needs about 84,500 affordable homes to close the housing gap.
This inability to solve the housing problem is the result, at least in part, of the way bailout funds have been distributed in Connecticut. Other states channeled the funds through county governments. A regional approach to spending is more likely to address regional issues, such as the lack of affordable housing. But lacking county government, federal funding went to individual towns, divided proportionately by population. Parish interests came first, and for most communities this did not meet housing needs.
Montville allocated $16,000 for youth football helmets. Voters in Old Lyme have approved $12,500 for a creative arts program for young people. Preston spent money on fire engines and snow plows.
These are all important questions, and this is just a small example of global allocations. But the fact is, helping people find affordable housing should rank above, if not surpass, these and other needs.
It is the region’s urban communities – which already offer a large stock of affordable housing – that have earmarked substantial relief funds for housing initiatives. Norwich has allocated $2 million and New London $610,000 to the efforts, according to Connecticut Mirror information using US Treasury Department data.
Most other cities in our region have not included housing needs when spending their federal aid, the Mirror reported.
Stonington is a notable exception. It has set aside $170,000 for housing-related projects, most of it to help low- and middle-income homeowners pay for needed repairs. First coach Danielle Chesebrough wanted more help for housing needs, but the Finance Council reduced her recommendation.
Ledyard has earmarked $1.2 million to subsidize the extension of sewer lines to encourage development. The city should make it a point to ensure that new developments include affordable multi-family housing.
Meanwhile, about half of federal money for the state remains uncommitted. Municipalities should allocate a significant portion of these unallocated funds to affordable housing initiatives.
In 2019, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments released a report on ways to meet the housing and transportation needs of a growing electric boat workforce. By expanding on this data, it can provide advice to municipalities to help meet the housing needs of all segments of the workforce, not just defense workers.
Finally, the state legislature, recognizing that cities have received federal assistance to meet other needs, should make expanding the availability of affordable housing a priority when lawmakers return to Hartford in 2023.
That municipalities have dedicated so little American Rescue Plan Act funding to address such a dire need is a missed opportunity.
Day’s editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and meets weekly to formulate editorial views. It is composed of the president and the editor Tim DwyerChief Editor Izaskun E. Larrañetaeditor Erica Moser and retired associate editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editor of the editorial page are responsible for the development of editorial notices. The board operates independently of Day’s newsroom.