Wallingford planners seek public input on affordable housing plan

WALLINGFORD — The Planning and Zoning Commission has unanimously approved an affordable housing plan and has scheduled a workshop next week to discuss how to implement it.

The Wallingford Affordable Housing Plan notes that only a small share of the town’s housing, 4.37 percent, is considered affordable under state guidelines and many workers in town commute from where housing is cheaper.

“The fact that teachers in Wallingford and firefighters in Wallingford can’t afford to live in Wallingford… it’s very concerning because that should not be the case in a town like Wallingford. And we have a net job inflow in town — more people come into Wallingford to work than leave town to work and it is concerning,” said commission member Jim Fitzsimmons.

Created in conjunction with the South Central Regional Council of Governments, the plan has a series of recommendations for how the town could increase the share of housing considered affordable, however it isn’t a binding document. The PZC scheduled a workshop for May 19 at 6 pm to discuss how town regulations could be altered to allow for higher density, particularly within the Incentive Housing Zone in the downtown area.

The recommendations include creating a resident education program to inform residents about affordable housing to reduce pushback on developments, a landlord education program to increase willingness to accept rental assistance vouchers, the creation of an affordable housing committee, removing barriers to housing production and a rental permit registry which would create a three-strike system where landlords who are found to be repeatedly in violation of requirements would no longer be permitted to rent their properties.

Commission alternate James Hine said he supports the adoption of an affordable housing committee with representatives from municipal departments and local organizations.

“I think that we should do everything that we can do to encourage affordable housing, but it’s got to be a team effort and I think to some extent it would be helpful if there were other departments and organizations in the town that were on board and had reviewed this and that we could sit down with and have a group discussion,” he said.

‘Something’s not working’

Much of the focus was on how to improve the town’s Incentive Housing Zone, which encourages affordable housing downtown as a way of revitalizing the district, by allowing increased density or geographically expanding the scope of the zone. Commission Chair Jim Seichter said there’s a broad agreement on the PZC that the current density, around 26 units an acre, is too low to attract developers’ interest.

Fitzsimmons noted that the zone has been around for years — it was established in 2014 — and yet there’s been little usage of its language.

“We do have an incentive housing zone; we’ve yet to receive an application. It’s nice to have on the books, but something’s not working — whether it’s the economy or the regs,” he said.

State legislation requires that municipalities create an affordable housing plan by June, with the goal of 10 percent of housing units being affordable. Municipalities that don’t meet that threshold, which includes the majority of towns in the state, have reduced capabilities to deny housing development applications that include an affordable component.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as not costing more than 30 percent of the income for an individual making 80 percent of the regional median income. Town Planner Kevin Pagini said that 80 percent of the median income for Wallingford is around $56,900 and approximately 40 percent of renters and 24 percent of homeowners are considered cost burdened.

To meet that 10 percent mark, Pagini said more than 1,000 additional units that are deed restricted to be affordable would be needed to reach the 10 percent mark.

Moving the needle

Bob Wiedenmann, owner of Sunwood Development and a member of the Wallingford Housing Authority, said it’s important that the adoption of the plan is followed up with action, saying there have been elements in the town’s 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development that would expand multi-family housing which has resulted in little development.

He said that there has been success when developers have come to the town with affordable housing development plans that meet the town’s existing regulations, but there continues to be ways that both regulations and their implementation can be improved to encourage development.

“I think with your willingness to discuss and negotiate and work out, we’ve come up with some very nice projects in town, some that have been recognized across the state in that way,” he said.

To read the plan go to https://tinyurl.com/2jes3ak2.

Reporter Devin Leith-Yessian can be reached at dleithyessian@record-journal.com.

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