Winsted residents say they want more housing options

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WINSTED — College students and other city dwellers want more housing options, according to a survey by the Housing Plan Steering Committee.

The committee, which has been meeting for months to develop a state-mandated affordable housing plan, has developed a draft plan that evaluates Winsted’s housing and makes suggestions to improve the supply.

Jocelyn Ayer, director of the newly formed Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity, previously worked for the Northwest Hills Council of Governments where she was director of community and economic development.

In recent years, Ayer has worked with 15 cities – mostly in the Northwest corner – to develop their affordable housing plan. The state requires these plans to be updated every 5 years.

Ayer recently discussed the plan with the Board of Selectmen and explained the steering committee process and the development of the draft plan. The committee developed Winsted’s housing plan with a focus on strategies for addressing specific challenges and helping residents find housing they can afford, she said.

“[Affordable housing is defined as]housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s median income,” Ayer said. “That’s the definition we use. According to the data we’ve collected, Winsted has 609 housing units designed to remain affordable. But you have 1,900 households whose incomes fall into the income bracket for that. pay 50 percent of their annual income for housing.”

Ayer said paying that much rent every month is a hardship. “What happens if you get a doctor’s bill or the car breaks down?” She said. “We need to find ways to create more options for these families.”

The Committee held several briefing sessions to gather information and ask questions. In August, members presented the draft plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which reviewed the document and made suggestions. The PCZ subsequently approved the plan, saying it was consistent with Winsted’s Plan of Conservation and Development – another plan that needs to be updated every five years.

“We’ve added a list of FAQs based on (the PZC’s post). We’ve added information on economic demographics, underscoring the need for affordable options. In most jobs — healthcare, social services, education services — people make less,” Ayer said.

The steering committee’s citizens’ survey was particularly helpful.

“We got a good response and found out the challenges they faced and people’s perceptions of housing needs,” she said. “We did one with college students and one with residents, and the college outreach was interesting. We heard what they are looking for and that they want to stay here in town. They would really appreciate more housing options.”

The steering committee also noted that, like many other communities, Winsted’s housing stock is old. “My house is 130 years old and has problems with cooling, heating and maintenance,” Ayer said. “It’s more expensive, and that’s a challenge for residents who have older homes.”

Objectives that emerged from the study included assisting the city in refurbishing existing buildings; Support for affordable home buyer options and preservation of homes that are affordable housing and on the state’s list.

“According to census data, Winsted has about 500 vacant units. So instead of building new, (the city) should invest in these vacancies,” Ayer said. “Work with Winchester Housing Authority and Winchester Development Corporation on affordable options for homebuyers. There are energy efficiency programs that help people heat and cool. This winter will be tough for a lot of people.”

The steering committee also supported the idea of ​​a fair rent commission and suggested the city could use the state’s Healthy Homes Program, which provides resources to remove lead paint, mold and asbestos from aging homes.

The draft plan also notes that while Winsted has now dedicated affordable housing, much of it is dedicated only to the elderly and disabled. “They’re one- and two-bedroom units,” Ayer said. “So not much for families.”

Ayer said having 10 percent affordable housing is one way to stave off developments that are allowed by the federal government if a municipality doesn’t provide them. The Affordable Housing Appeals Act, enacted in 1990, would allow a developer to establish and override zoning regulations such as setbacks and density requirements. “To my mind, it’s a zoning thing,” she said. “This law focused (centered) on not allowing cities to foreclose on multi-family housing development.”

Selectwoman Candy Perez said the committee’s work was recognized by the board.

“Jocelyn is on top of everything, and it’s difficult to come up with that plan because it’s mandated by the state,” she said. “Many of us have questions about what’s happening in our community.”

Perez said investor-driven rent increases are happening more and more; For example, people who used to plan their own housing estates are now selling their properties to “apartment blocks” with multiple investors. “It’s taken a lot of housing away from people who can’t afford it,” she said. “(There should be) ways to help people own their own homes. They would benefit from ownership because in some cases it is less to own than to rent.”

But there’s a balancing act, Perez said, when it comes to developing affordable housing. “If we were to build these units, they wouldn’t just be for Winsted residents,” she said. “That’s the struggle some of us have. As we build more units, we need to balance how many people are queuing to get in, and how many are from Winsted and how many are from other areas.”

Perez said the five-year housing plan is not binding. “It’s a guide,” she said. “We don’t have to do these things, but developers could come along.”

Winsted’s affordable housing plan was due in June, and the city was able to get an extension until the end of October. The Board of Selectmen is expected to vote on it at its next meeting on October 17. The draft plan is available online at townofwinchester.org.

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