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Affordable housing in short supply, lender says

Metro Green

Metro Green Apartment complex in Stamford.

In Stamford, residents who’ve been in dire need of affordable housing are finally able to take advantage of a new residential complex that offers just that.

Metro Green Residential opened just a few months ago, offering some relief for the problem of finding affordable homes not just in Fairfield County, but throughout the state.

It’s been an issue not only because of the quality of some homes, but their quantity, according to the Housing Development Fund (HDF) Inc. Even before the economic downturn, people who earned low to moderate incomes found searching for affordable housing to be a chore, HDF said.

“There’s long been a mismatch between the affordability for low and moderate incomes versus what they can rent or own,” said Joan Carty, president and CEO of HDF, a nonprofit lender based in Stamford. “It’s a barrier for people, the lack of stock, there just aren’t the options,” Carty said.

One of the issues is there has been little new development over the last 20 years, she said. The relative shortage of affordable housing complexes coupled with a dropping median income is troubling, she said, and an increase in home prices exacerbates the problem.

HDF’s 2011 annual report revealed that in Connecticut there are 112 towns where the median household income is not enough to afford the average home.

State median household incomes dropped from $69,055 in 2009 to $65,686 in 2011 and many residents earn far less, the report notes.

The median home values, according to the real estate research site Zillow, is $224,200 in the state, and $356,600 in Fairfield County. For those earning far less the dream of home ownership is unrealistic and even renting a decent home is hard to do.

The push for developers to concentrate on building more affordable housing has been a difficult but steady grind.

HDF invested $5.7 million in affordable multifamily housing in 2011. Some developers are concentrating on the Stamford metro area for more housing options.

One reason is that Stamford has linkage ordinances that were initiated to set aside some money from commercial building permit fees collected by the city to help create or rehabilitate affordable housing.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford prior to his election as governor, was the city’s first mayor to embrace the linkage law. Malloy was on hand for the ribbon cutting when Metro Green opened. The complex, developed by Jonathan Rose Cos. and Malkin Properties, is a mixed-income housing complex with 40 units dedicated to incomes ranging from 25 percent to 60 percent of area median income. Ten units are at market rate. The 60,000-square-foot building cost $27 million to construct. It is coupled with Metro Green Apartments, 50 green affordable housing units within a mixed-use, transit-oriented development.

The Jonathan Rose Cos. found Stamford attractive as an area in which to build. “The city is forward-thinking and is incredibly supportive of mixed-income housing,” said Caroline Vary, director of the firm’s Connecticut office. As a developer, she acknowledged that Stamford’s zoning regulations make it a requirement for builders to include affordable housing as part of multifamily residential developments. Vary doesn’t believe it should be a deterrent, but it should “encourage the creation of new affordable housing.”

That’s something Carty’s organization wants to continue to make happen. She explained its part of the mission of the HDF is to continue to help that part of the population that requires more affordable housing, even without new developments.

The nonprofit is starting a landlord entrepreneur program for 2013 that will help individuals finance the purchase of apartments, rather than renting.

Additionally, HDF is touting an energy loan program for weatherization of housing using solar and thermal options and insulation to reduce heat and electricity bills. The goal is not to just find people affordable housing, but also to position them to become financially sound.

Editor’s note: The article originally referred to HDF as the Fairfield Housing Development Fund Inc.; the correct name is Housing Development Fund Inc. (HDF). HDF currently serves Fairfield, New Haven, and Litchfield counties in Connecticut, as well as Westchester County in New York. 

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