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New Haven Housing Authority report highlights need for affordable housing

New Haven Housing Authority President Karen DuBois-Walton (right), with New Haven Housing Authority Policy Manager Will Viederman.
Abigail Brone
Connecticut Public
New Haven Housing Authority President Karen DuBois-Walton (right), with New Haven Housing Authority Policy Manager Will Viederman, speaker after a report was issued outlining the city's housing options.

The New Haven Housing Authority has proposed ways in which the city can mitigate its housing crisis and increase affordability. The Authority, also known as Elm City Communities, released a roughly 40-page report Monday outlining contributing factors to the city’s lack of housing options.

Between 2010 and 2019 New Haven largely became more affordable, according to New Haven Housing Authority Policy Manager Will Viederman.

The rates of rent-burdened residents dropped between eight and 10 percentage points during that period, amounting to more than 5,300 households in New Haven, Viederman said.

However, that trend halted when the pandemic began.

“Housing got more affordable because even as rents continue to go up, incomes grew faster,” Viederman said. “But in the pandemic, that progress stalled. Rents grew faster than incomes, even in a moment of strong wage growth, and they've continued to. The best evidence for why rents have spiked is low vacancy rates.”

Young adults from the city and the surrounding towns moved out of their family homes and into their own places, often in New Haven. This caused the city’s vacancy rate to plummet and rent to spike.

“The vacancy in the city dropped to historic lows during the pandemic, and when vacancy crashes, rents increase, tenants compete for apartments and landlords can raise rents until some of the competition drops out,” Viederman said.

To mitigate the housing crisis, the Authority recommended several steps the city could enact prior to a scheduled zoning regulation rewrite.

Some of the changes include decreasing lot size requirements and legalizing single room occupancy units, often geared toward low-income residents.

“These are things that the city's familiar with, and we feel like we should move on,” Viederman said. “Bridgeport and Hartford have already taken on some of these, including both have eliminated parking requirements. These are not these are not challenging to do or un-experimented with.”

More than 25,000 households in New Haven are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent, mortgage and other housing needs.

From 2019 to 2021, New Haven grew by nearly 10,000 households, Viederman said.

In the last three decades, New Haven permitted the construction of 5,700 new homes. To stabilize the city's rental market, the housing authority projects the city needs to build another 8,400 homes by 2030.

Elm City Communities currently has a backlog of about 30,000 individuals and families looking for affordable accommodations in New Haven, Authority President Karen DuBois-Walton said.

“This report is specifically about, ‘What can we do right here in New Haven, right now, to address it?” DuBois-Walton said. “New Haven has a plan, I think, to take on a much larger zoning reform. This is sort of like the low hanging fruit. This is what can be taken on right away and that could make some significant changes, particularly if taken on as a package.”

While the report outlines more immediate action to be taken in New Haven to increase affordability, Elm City Communities is continuing to promote policy changes at the statewide level. But the organization was disappointed in the legislature’s failure to pass laws in the most recent legislative session that would have expanded renter rights and accessibility.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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