Fund created for affordable housing

NEW MILFORD - Builders will have to pay into an affordable housing fund under a new regulation approved by the Zoning Commission.

The amount the builders will have to pay depends on the size of the houses, apartments and condominiums they are approved to construct.

On Wednesday night, the Zoning Commission voted 4-1 to approve a regulation backed by state law that allows towns to collect fees to assist with providing needed affordable housing. This particular regulation requires that a builder or developer pay the town $1 for every $1,000 square foot residential dwelling they intend to construct before a zoning permit will be issued. The money will be paid to a trust administered by New Milford Affordable Housing
Inc., a non-profit organization whose purpose is to build affordable housing in town.

So, if a builder intends to construct a 5,000-square-foot house, the fee would be $5,000. If a builder is developing a neighborhood of 10 homes, all of them 3,000 square feet, the fee is $30,000. Based on current residential housing trends, the commission predicts the regulation will generate between $300,000 and $400,000 annually.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Kathy Castagnetta said this is a big deal because there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the state.

The only other city in Connecticut that now requires a similar fee for affordable housing is Stamford. Other towns such as West Hartford and Darien are considering similar regulations, said commission member Brooks Temple , who is chairman of the New Milford Housing Partnership and pushed for this regulation.

At the hearing Wednesday night, there was only limited debate about the regulation, with no builders or developers speaking in opposition. The Planning Commission did issue a letter in opposition because they consider this a tax that will add to the already escalating price of residential homes.

To Temple, who is stepping down after some 19 years involved in town zoning, this regulation is critical because otherwise the town will never meet the state's mandate for 10 percent of its housing stock to be affordable. At this time, he said, New Milford is at about 4 percent.

"Builders might shake their heads, but how else are we going to do it?" Temple asked. "The town can't afford to pay for it through property taxes. This seems much fairer. And it's not going to hurt them (builders/developers). They'll just pass along the cost to the person buying the house."

As for why charge for 1,000 square feet or over, Temple said, generally, any units smaller than that are already considered affordable housing.

Over the last two years, Temple said he has asked everyone planning to build residential housing what they intend to do for affordable housing. Most said they never considered it, he said. This regulation, which is perfectly legal, will require them to think about it, he said.

Though this fund will not be enough to build an affordable housing complex, Temple said it could become the seed money for an affordable project.

Certainly, Temple said, he would prefer if builders opted to develop affordable housing without a mandated incentive, but so far that has not worked so this seems the next best option.

The town has three senior affordable housing complexes, and one 40-unit family housing project, Indian Fields, still awaiting final zoning approval.

"We need more family housing, we need more senior housing, and we need some supportive housing, which we have none of," Temple said.