NEWTOWN - When the town rejected a plan to build age-restricted condominiums last week, the developers said they weren't giving up. They said they could always build affordable housing. That's one option that could make sense, said Peter Scalzo , the Bethel attorney representing Pine Crest Estates, near Sandy Hook. With less than 2 percent of Newtown housing defined as affordable housing, there's little competition. "I think these towns need to have more affordable housing," Scalzo said. The Planning and Zoning Commission last week rejected plans for 56 Pine Crest Estates units that would have been geared toward adults 55 and over. Commission members were concerned because the area didn't have public water and sewer service. But it's much harder for town commissions to block affordable housing proposals, and Scalzo's comments are likely to raise eyebrows. Like many Connecticut towns, Newtown has struggled to meet state guidelines that 10 percent of housing stock be considered affordable. The definition varies, but it generally means housing that sells for below-market rates for the area. People must earn less than 80 percent of the state or region's median income to qualify. The median housing price in Newtown has soared above $400,000 in recent years. In 2004, just 1.74 percent of the town's housing was considered affordable, compared to 10.51 percent in Danbury. Only 30 municipalities in Connecticut had levels above 10 percent in 2004. "I don't have any good solutions for it," First Selectman Herb Rosenthal said of the affordable housing crunch. "It's a real thorny problem. I think people are wrestling with it around the state. I haven't heard a good solution." Rosenthal said the town has eased zoning regulations over the years to allow people to rent out space in their homes. That's helped some people stay in town, despite rising prices. Still, he said, "it's very hard for young people or elderly people to stay in the community." In Newtown, nearly all of the affordable housing is in Nunnawauk Meadows, which offers low-cost rentals for senior citizens near the former Fairfield Hills state hospital. There are 13 condos available at Riverview Condominiums near Sand Hill Plaza, and a handful of others scattered around town. Steve Bertrand , who lives in Nunnawauk Meadows, thinks there would be a market for more affordable housing in town. "A lot of people are moving into town from out of state," he said. That's driven up housing costs and forced longtime residents to look elsewhere because they can't afford the rising property taxes. "It's ridiculous," Bertrand said. The problem, Rosenthal said, is not many developers really want to build affordable housing. When pricier housing plans are denied, they might vow to propose affordable housing, but few actually turn in applications. "They use this as a veiled threat," Rosenthal said. The threats can work. In many towns, residents flock to oppose affordable housing plans because they worry about the type of people who will move in to the dwellings. In towns where less than 10 percent of housing is deemed affordable, developers have added leverage due to state law. The town must prove there is a health or safety reason before denying affordable housing projects. And developers can still make a healthy profit from affordable housing - only 30 percent of the units in such a project must be affordable. The rest can be sold for market value. Even if a plan was denied by Newtown officials, "we'd win affordable housing in the court," Scalzo said about the Pine Crest Estate project. Liz Stocker, community development coordinator for Newtown, said the problem won't likely go away any time soon. The town averages 100 new building units every year. These projects are hardly ever affordable housing plans. "It's not likely we'll be able to reach that (10 percent level) unless there was a massive amount of affordable housing units," she said. More for youNewsNEWTOWNNews-Times, The (Danbury, CT)NewsBuilder objects to affordable housing feeNews-Times, The (Danbury, CT)NewsDanbury plan would end homelessness in 10 yearsNews-Times, The (Danbury, CT) Contact Robert Gold at email@example.com or at (203) 731-3350.