The Day – Norwich is holding a public hearing on the Affordable Housing Plan on Monday

Norwich – With more than 19% of the city’s housing stock listed as affordable, Norwich need not worry about a potential developer invoking state statute to override local zoning regulations and propose a large housing project.

The state law, which allows for potential dezoning, applies to cities and towns where less than 10% of their housing is defined as affordable.

But that doesn’t mean Norwich doesn’t have housing affordability issues, said Kathryn Crees, director of community development, who led the effort to write the city’s state-mandated Affordable Housing Plan. The 17-page plan provides data on residents’ current housing stock and income levels, and lists strategies to increase and improve affordable housing.

The plan is published under the label “News” next to the calendar on the city’s homepage, www.norwichct.org. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the plan at the beginning of its Monday meeting at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Housing is considered affordable when a household spends no more than 30% of its income on housing expenses, including rent or mortgage, property taxes and utilities. U.S. Census data showed that up to 49% of Norwich households are “cost-burdened,” paying more than 30% of their income on housing expenses, including 23% of homeowners who don’t have a mortgage, Crees said.

Crees said when city officials researched data for the plan, they quickly realized that while the city has a high percentage of affordable housing, housing affordability for city dwellers needs to be addressed.

Federal COVID-19 relief grants have helped many families with rental and utility support, but when that money is gone, more people will struggle to pay for housing.

“It’s the affordability,” Crees said. “We just have too many people standing on the sidelines. That’s the conversation we need to have.”

The Affordable Housing Plan draws on the 2013 Conservation and Development Plan to provide guidance for improving urban housing, directing multi-family housing to areas with access to public transport, encouraging the rehabilitation of existing buildings, particularly historic ones, and reserving the more rural ones Areas of the city for single-family houses. The plan also promotes the use of various sources of financing for affordable housing, such as B. the Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority or CHFA, and historical tax credits for renovation of old buildings.

Since the release of this plan in 2013, the city has approved more than 300 new homes, a mix of off-the-shelf and designated affordable units in Taftville’s historic Ponemah Mill. Last year, the city partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut to use $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan grants to build new single-family homes in Greeneville and rehabilitate several derelict homes that the city acquired through foreclosures.

A total of 19.3% of the city’s 19,120 residential units are considered affordable housing within the meaning of the state statute. Of the 3,608 affordable units listed on the state Housing Department’s list, 191 have single-family mortgages in CHFA/US Department of Agriculture; 2,296 are government-subsidized units and 796 receive rent-aid.

The age of city housing is another factor in efforts to improve affordable housing, according to the plan, with 38% of housing units in Norwich built before 1929 and 29% built between 1929 and 1969. The Community Development Office provides approximately $250,000 per year of the city’s federal Community Development Block Grant for interest-free home renovation loans. Loan repayments from previous projects add another $100,000 to the pool, Crees said.

The bureau separately has more than $1 million left in a federal grant to combat lead paint, which is also being offered as an interest-free loan to homeowners.

What the city is missing are requests from property owners to use the money.

Crees said she was frustrated that despite aggressive marketing efforts, few applications were submitted, particularly for the lead-paint control grants. Bureau staff have reached out to local churches, promoted the program on English and Spanish-language radio programs, sent messages in city utility bills and set up tables outside local malls – including at the Norwich Walmart this weekend.

She speculated that part of the problem may be that almost 45% of the units are unoccupied. Many owners are absentee landlords living outside the area.

Crees emphasized the generous terms of the programs: rehabilitation loans are refundable after 10 years under certain conditions, and lead-reduction loans after five years. Both programs are interest-free loans.

“You can’t do better than that,” she said. “Even so, people don’t come in and take advantage of it.”

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