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Litchfield County addresses the need for 'workforce housing'

A construction worker hammers away at the formwork for the foundation of a building that will be part of Oak Grove - an affordable housing complex in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
A construction worker hammers away at the formwork for the foundation of a building that will be part of Oak Grove — an affordable housing complex in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Litchfield County is expanding affordable housing to accommodate essential workers and target the more than 30,000 residents who struggle to afford to live where they work.

Thirty percent of households in Litchfield County are considered cost burdened since they spend at least 30% of their total income on living costs, placing them at the federal poverty level.

Litchfield County communities are turning to workforce housing creation as a means to lessen the cost burden on the area’s essential workers, said Jocelyn Ayer, director of the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity.

“Workforce housing is commonly targeted at essential workers like police officers, firemen, teachers, nurses, medical personnel,” Ayer said. “We do, in our communities, have a great number of lower paying service jobs.”

The median household income in Litchfield County is just over $98,000 a year, according to a Connecticut Data Haven report.

Workforce housing would target residents earning 80% of the area median income (AMI). Residents earning 80% of the AMI have an annual income of about $64,000, Ayer said.

About 31,000 families in Litchfield County earn at or below 80% AMI, but existing affordable apartments aren’t often available to the workforce, Ayer said.

“Many of those dedicated units are restricted to senior or disabled residents only,” Ayer said.

Residents also feel the squeeze of wealthy out of state residents purchasing second, seasonal homes in the region.

“Our workforce is competing with second homeowners and a lot of our communities who are bringing their incomes from higher income earning areas like New York,” Ayer said. “We're competing for the same limited supply of housing.”

There are, however, 18 affordable housing projects in the works in Litchfield County, including some apartments specifically for local essential employees such as hospital workers and police officers.

In Kent, the nonprofit affordable housing group, Kent Affordable Housing Inc., is looking to convert an old warehouse behind the fire station into affordable housing for the town’s volunteer firefighters, Kent Affordable Housing President Justin Potter said.

In determining the town’s affordable housing needs, the nonprofit shared a series of workforce housing surveys for local employers and employees. The survey found 74% of respondents who worked in Kent wanted to move to or stay within Kent, Potter said.

“These are people living in housing situations less than ideal. You're living with your parents, in-laws. You have a spouse that they wanted to separate from, all sorts of things,” Potter said. “These are people who work in Kent, love Kent, would love to stay in Kent, but have an untenable housing situation.”

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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