Milford officials begin work on affordable housing plan

Milford City Hall, Spring 2021

Milford City Hall, Spring 2021

Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — With each community in the state required to create its own affordable housing plan, Milford officials hosted a forum Wednesday on what that means for the city.

According to the state mandate, each community must have a “road map” to meet present and future housing needs. Milford’s Development Director Julie Nash said this was first such meeting on affordable housing’s future in the city.

“Affordable housing creation has to be a community effort,” Nash said. “People have to talk.”

David Fink, a housing policy consultant for the South Central Regional Council of Government (SCROG), said SCROG is creating affordable housing plans for the state and has hired RKG Associates to assist in the process.

“But neither SCROG nor RKG is going to create Milford’s housing plan,” he said. “It has to be created ... by the residents of the town, by the officials all putting their heads together.”

Fink said overall, when it comes to housing, people are guided by what they see on TV, and their fears are legitimate.

“People who have bought a home it’s usually the largest check they’ve ever written, and they have everything tied up in that home,” he said. “They have their families’ security, their children’s education, their retirement and quality of life. So if they are worried about what else you are going to bring into town and whether it’s going to be in their neighborhood, you can’t blame them.”

But, Fink said, homeowners’ fears may be based on misinformation. To guard against that, Fink said communities have to come together and talk about these types of issues.

“The approach is to be inclusive and build the community together,” he said. “It’s also important to give people choices, and then you have to decide what are the goals for your town.”

When it comes to housing, Fink said people do care.

“In 2010, we saw a lot of baby boomers as empty nesters, and they didn’t need their house anymore, and they realized they wanted to downsize,” he said. “We also saw when millennials reached the home-buying and childbearing stage they had a lot of education debt. Their lifestyles did not lend themselves to single-family homes, and they wanted multifamily housing.”

So by the end of 2010, there was huge demand for multifamily housing, Fink said.

“And suddenly people thought about housing, and they realized they cared about it,” he said.

Fink said towns want to create more multifamily housing because property tax revenue attracts future buyers, brings shoppers to town and provides workers for important jobs. In addition, if a town has housing people can afford, they don’t fall into homelessness or a very insecure housing situation.

“Connecticut is a very expensive housing state. It’s got the sixth highest median housing price in the nation, and we are second, according to the Gini coefficient, in wealth disparity,” he said.

When there is a big gap between the wealthiest people and the lowest income people in the state or town, Fink added that the wealthiest drive up the price of all business services.

“In Milford, the housing prices have gone up in the last few years. So the median housing price has gone from about $250,000 to about $400,000,” he said. “The rule of thumb in is that families can generally afford a home three times their incomes. So if you have a median housing sales price in Milford of about $400,000, that means that only a family of about $133,000 income can buy that home.”

Similarly, median gross rent in Milford is now more than $1,500, he said.

“So that requires an income about more than $60,000 to afford the median gross rent in Milford,” Fink said. “Housing prices have gone up. Why? Because they’ve been driven up by people who can afford to pay those prices. The people who lose in that situation are the low and moderate-income people.”

Across the state, 48 percent of renters and 33 percent of homeowners are burdened by housing costs.

“It’s a little lower in Milford right now, it’s about 46 percent of renters, and 30 percent of homeowners are burdened by housing cost,” he said. “But that’s still a lot of people.”

About two-thirds of the towns in the state built 40 percent of their housing after 1970 because baby boomers were in their 20s, and there was a huge demand for that.

“As a result, almost three-quarters of towns in the state have housing stock that is very skewed to single-family housing, about 70 percent or more,” Fink said. “Milford is better than other towns, and it’s about 74 percent single-family homes.”

In Connecticut, in about 140 cities and towns, at least 20 percent of the households are ALICE households. The acronym stands for asset-limited, income-constrained, employed.

“Those households are in a position where a (vehicle breakdown), mom getting hours cut at her job or any other unplanned and unforeseen expense can really put that family at risk,” he said. “Believe it or not, in a wonderful city like Milford, with a lot of wealthy people and a lot of services, 31 percent of households in Milford are ALICE households.”

Fink said overall, Milford is doing well regarding income-restricted housing at about 5.3 percent, and the city has kept that level.

“Milford has tried to add a number of multifamily units over the years and has done way better than other towns in terms of building permits,” he said. “In terms of renter and homeowner burden, Milford has done better by creating income restricting housing.”

Fink, along with Nash, will drive around next week to do an analysis of potential locations for creating affordable housing.

“We are not just going to go by zoning maps,” said Fink. “We are going to go and look at locations where we can do these sorts of things. So maybe there will be locations where there is existing green space or put it near a created green space, but we are also going to look at other places like along commercial strips.”

The two will then meet with city officials and create a set of goals and methods for reaching those goals, he said.

“A draft plan will be created by the end of March by RKG, based on those thoughts and the thoughts tonight,” he said. “Then the town is going to have a conversation about that, and I know having talked to Justin and Julie, they are committed to having input and comment on that draft plan.”

The way to make progress when it comes to housing, Fink said Milford is doing it right by having forums, meetings and it would be good to create organizations and groups to talk about the subject more.

“The more people you can bring into this, the better,” he said. “We at SCROG stand by to provide you with surveys, slideshows and videos. The idea is to communicate and educate people on this.”