1%? The housing challenge deserves much greater investment

Addressing the state’s affordable housing crisis has not been a priority in spending the $1.5 billion in stimulus funds of the American Rescue Plan Act. Connecticut towns and cities have so far allocated only about 1% of pandemic relief aid to housing needs, according to an analysis of the data.

Sadly, and inexcusably, the housing problem has received little attention despite specific language allowing appropriations for such things as affordable housing development and preservation, homeless assistance, mortgage assistance, and planning strategies to address the issues. of housing.

Those who stand to benefit the most if cities and towns devote more relief funds to providing affordable housing are the very people who served on the front lines during the pandemic — retail workers and those in service industries who couldn’t stay home and doing their jobs and who are at the bottom end of the pay scale.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that the average Connecticut renter must earn about $57,000 a year to find a rental that is affordable, defined as spending no more than one-third of income on a apartment. The same group estimates that Connecticut needs about 84,500 affordable units to close the housing gap.

This failure to address the housing problem is the result, at least in part, of the way bailout funds were distributed in Connecticut. Other states channeled funds through county governments. A regional approach to spending is more likely to address regional problems, such as the lack of affordable housing. But in the absence of county government, federal funds went to individual cities, divided proportionally by population. Communal interests took priority, and for most communities that did not meet housing needs.

Montville allocated $16,000 for youth football helmets. Old Lyme voters approved $12,500 for a creative arts program for youth. Preston spent money on fire trucks and snowplows.

These are all important issues and only a small sample of general allocations. But the point is that helping people find affordable places to live should rank, if not outweigh, these and other needs.

It is the region’s urban communities – which already provide significant stocks of affordable housing – that have directed substantial aid funds to housing initiatives. Norwich has allocated $2 million and New London $610,000 for such efforts, according to reporting by the Connecticut Mirror using U.S. Treasury Department data.

Most other cities in our region failed to include housing needs when spending their federal aid, the Mirror reported.

Stonington is a notable exception. He set aside $170,000 for housing-related projects, most of it to help low- and moderate-income homeowners pay for needed repairs. First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough wanted more aid for housing needs, but the Board of Finance cut her recommendation.

Possibilities remain.

Ledyard directed $1.2 million to subsidize the extension of sewer lines to encourage development. The city must make a point to ensure that new development includes affordable and multi-family housing.

Meanwhile, roughly half of the federal money directed to the state remains unobligated. Municipalities must allocate a significant amount of those undistributed funds to affordable housing initiatives.

In 2019, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments issued a report on ways to meet the housing and transportation needs of a growing electric boat workforce. By expanding on that data, it can provide municipalities with guidance to help meet housing needs for all segments of the workforce, not just defense workers.

Finally, the state legislature, recognizing towns and cities that received federal aid to meet other needs, should make expanding the availability of affordable housing a priority when lawmakers return to Hartford in 2023.

That municipalities have directed so little of the American Rescue Plan Act funds to address such a great need is a missed opportunity.

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