MONROE, CT — Planning and Zoning Commission members unanimously approved the town’s first Affordable Housing Plan, following a hearing Thursday.
The Connecticut General Assembly adopted Public Act 17-170 in 2017, requiring every municipality to write a plan explaining how it intends to increase its number of affordable housing developments. The plan must be updated every five years.
The Monroe Planning and Zoning Commission created a Main Street Design District, allowing overlay zones to be applied for to build apartments on properties along Main Street, Monroe Turnpike and Route 34.
Town Planner Rick Schultz said working with developers who apply for special design districts is the best way for the town to control the location, design and density of affordable housing developments.
Otherwise, a developer can come in with an application under 8-30g, Connecticut’s affordable housing statute, which says a town can only deny an application if the commission determines it poses a threat to public health and safety — which is often difficult to prove in court.
“We want to avoid the straight forward 8-30g, because you have no control over the results,” Schultz said.
Of Monroe’s nearly 7,000 housing units, 92 or 1.33 percent meets the state definition of affordable housing. The state’s goal is that 10 percent of every municipality’s housing be affordable.
“We need 599 units to comply with the 10 percent set aside,” Schultz said during a presentation. “I’m not getting into whether it’s realistic to reach. Multiple attempts to change the number failed.”
Schultz said the state expects to see some progress, which he believes Monroe’s plan will achieve. He said the plan will be used as a guide when the commission receives affordable housing applications.
One challenge of increasing the percentage of affordable housing units townwide, is that only 10 percent of units must meet the definition for a housing development to be considered affordable, meaning the remaining 90 percent of units are market rate.
Furthermore, the affordable housing units are deed restricted, and can be sold at market rates within 30 years, effectively losing the affordable status.
What is affordable housing?
“Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that is available to households making less than the area median income and costing less than 30 percent of a household’s annual income,” according to the affordable housing plan.
“This can include both naturally occurring market-rate apartment units or specifically restricted properties that have been income-limited by deed,” it says.
The area median income goes by county rather than by town. The median household income for a family of four in Fairfield County is $98,000, based on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 income data.
The affordable housing cost for 80 percent of the area median income is currently $23,520 per year or $1,960 per month.
Chairman Michael O’Reilly said this is not cheap, Section 8 housing. He said it is housing that is affordable for teachers, nurses and other professionals.
“You or your neighbor may qualify, so we’re not talking about low income housing by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
Among the measures in the Affordable Housing Plan, Monroe will seek to increase affordable housing by increasing awareness of federal type loans (senior housing).
Three locations identified
The Monroe Affordable Housing Plan identified three specific locations for affordable housing:
- Mitchell DeEsso received approval of a conceptual plan to build a mixed-use retail development with up to 50 apartments on the Monroe-Trumbull town line. Two of the 20 apartment units in Monroe would be defined as affordable.
- The Pond View property at 127 Main St. was rezoned to a Special Design District and a conceptual plan was recently approved for 196 multifamily units, 20 of which would be affordable. The developer recently agreed to include elevators in the buildings, which was a concern of commissioners.
- Connecticut Housing Partners received approval to build 49-units of affordable housing for residents age 62-and-older near the former Skate Time property on Main Street. This is a 100 percent affordable development with financing.
In a letter to the commission, George W. Ganim Sr., who owns commercial property on Main Street, praised the effort to have an affordable housing plan and asked that his property at 605 Main St. be included as a potential site for affordable housing.
The owner of 232 Elm St. wants to do an 8-30g development and asked the commission’s subcommittee to consider his property too, according to Schultz.
A draft of the plan also considered a portion of the former Stevenson Lumber site and properties on Route 34 as potential sites.
However, during deliberations Thursday, Commissioner Leon Ambrosey said he would rather the plan be general than specifically identify potential places on the map. Other commissioners agreed, so the plan only includes the three specific places.
Cathy Lindstrom, a resident who serves on the Architectural Review Board, asked if wetlands could cause environmental concerns on some properties whose owners pursue affordable housing developments.
Schultz said a court upheld the denial of an affordable housing application in North Branford, when he was the town planner there, because the property was all wetlands, so it is a valid reason for denial.
However, he said North Branford lost five appeals of its denials in court after that, illustrating how difficult it is for a town to deny an application under 8-30g.
Schultz said all potential sites in Monroe would require soil testing to determine whether it is adequate for septic.
Schultz said Monroe does not have public sewers, limiting the number of affordable housing applications it will have, while other places like Trumbull have been besieged by applications.
If Monroe had a public sewer line, Schultz said the affordable housing applications here could quadruple.
Sandra Alford of Birchwood Road asked about the possibility of someone buying an affordable housing unit and having significantly more occupants than bedrooms.
While it is not always easy to enforce, Ambrosey said Continental Properties, which develops and manages upscale apartment communities and would build the Pond View community, performs inspections and evicts violators who have more occupants than they should, so enforcement does happen.
‘Not even close’
Joel Leneker, a Stepney resident, asked how close Monroe would get to 10 percent if all seven sites initially identified as being eligible for affordable housing were to be developed.
“Not even close,” Schultz said.
Leneker suggested allowing people to have affordable dwellings on their properties to put a dent in the affordable housing deficit.
He also asked what will happen if a developer whose property is not mentioned in the plan approaches the town to build affordable housing.
Schultz said land use staff will inform commissioners of interest from property owners and the subcommittee will determine which properties are reasonable. Then the full commission will decide whether to have a public hearing and update the plan, “because it should be in this plan first, before you go to the zone change.”
Leneker said he believes the affordable housing plan is an opportunity to demand “really good streetscaping and lighting” as properties are developed. “Good design is good business,” he said.
In response to one resident’s question, O’Reilly said the affordable housing plan will be used as a guide and will not allow a developer to build affordable housing as of right.
“I’d like to support an affordable housing plan in Monroe,” Lindstrom said. “This is not only important, but it’s necessary. I think you guys will hopefully use your best judgement, so I support it.”