Milford group backs accessory dwellings to boost housing options

MILFORD — As the city continues to grow, so does the need for housing, and one local grassroots group sees accessory dwelling units as part of the solution.

All in for Milford — an alliance of community leaders and neighborhood group — has called on the Planning and Zoning Board to revise its regulations to make ADUs more attractive for homeowners to create, while in turn bringing more housing options to those in need.

“ADUs will not solve the larger problem, but it will provide more opportunity for those in need of housing,” said Jennifer Paradis, executive director of Beth El Center, a homeless shelter in Milford , and All in for Milford member.

“We need to be able to use what we have until more housing stock is developed in the greater Milford area,” Paradis added. “We’re not going to get these overnight, but ADUs are an option as we work to get to that goal.”

An accessory dwelling unit is a second small dwelling right on the same grounds, or attached to, a regular single-family house. Examples are an apartment over the garage, a tiny house (on a foundation) in the backyard, or a basement apartment.

The Planning and Zoning Board earlier this month moved to opt out of a state law allowing accessory dwelling units on lots accompanying single-family homes.

The board voted to opt out of the state PA 21-29, which allows accessory apartments in residential districts as the state now defines it, “as a right” starting Jan. 1, 2023. The Board of Aldermen made the decision official Monday, voting to opt out of the state statute against the urging of All in for Milford, which asked that the board delay its decision until new city zoning regulations on ADUs was put in place.

The decision, however, does not mean the board is moving to craft its own regulations to allow such units, which all agree would help meet a substantial need within the community. The board’s regulation subcommittee is planning to discuss revisions in the coming weeks.

“The regulations are archaic ... they are so antiquated,” said Rachel Merva of RM Counseling and All in for Milford member.

Charles Montalbano presently has an ADU in the basement of his Milford home. It houses family members, but he would use it for non-relatives if the space was ever vacant, and the city changed its regulations.

“It was there when we bought the house (in 1984),” Montalbano said. “It was called an in-law apartment. While it was not the main reason for buying the house, it was an important feature.”

Montalbano said he and his wife bought the house under the assumption that eventually one or more of their parents would need a place to live.

“It turned out to be both, at different times,” he said. “We have renovated and updated it over time but have not changed the floor plan. It has a separate entrance in the back.”

Merva said that the high apartment rental costs are forcing out elderly and young people, and the present accessory dwelling regulations are too restrictive.

The most restrictive aspects, according to those in favor of ADUs, are rules calling for such units in single-family homes to be used only by relatives who need support or need to be near family members for assistance.

Her hope is the zoning board will revise the regulations to allow for detached ADUs, remove requirements that it be used for only relatives, allow the homeowner to earn income from renting ADUs, and make the ADUs a matter of right once approved.

Merva said there are about 160 registered ADUs in the city.

All in for Milford held a special Zoom program, Housing Solutions 101, on Sept. 7, with the focus on ADUs. Among the speakers were Fairfield Assistant Planner Emmeline Harrigan, who was former assistant city planner in Milford, and builder Bob Weidemann of Wallingford-based Sunwood Construction.

Harrigan said Fairfield is like Milford, with about 20,000 housing units but few ADUs, around 240 total, even with more relaxed regulations than Milford. Fairfield allows detached ADUs on larger lots.

“With today’s high cost of rents, allowing rentals to non-related parties would be beneficial to homeowners and folks looking for smaller unit sizes,” Harrigan said, drawing on her experience in Fairfield.

Weidemann said ADUs would not change the nature of neighborhoods. He said his company constructs two to three ADUs a year, and the cost of creating one does not lend itself to being a major money maker for the homeowner.

He said regulations require owners to occupy the home where the ADU is located, which he says helps ensure the land is maintained.

Weidemann said allowing non-relatives to live in such units is important as at some point, if the older relative leaves the site, owners have options to rent and earn income while helping those seeking housing find a place to live

Paradis said the reality is if someone is on Social Security, they make at most $1,800 a month. She said most people make an average of $800 a month, and a monthly housing cost should be 30 percent of a person’s income. Apartments cost an average of $2,100 a month.

“This is an impossible challenge for so many,” Paradis said.

Homelessness remains an issue in Milford, she said, as evidenced by the 72 individuals served by the Beth-El Center shelter this past winter.

“That is a good gauge of the need, although it does fluctuate,” Paradis said. “But then there is the teachers, the firefighters, the city workers … everyone who works here but can’t afford to live here. This offers them an opportunity to stay here. We need to have these options for people in desperate need of housing.”