Editorial: Affordable ups and downs

Phase two of Wilton Commons is just about ready to open, bringing to town 23 affordable one-bedroom apartments for frail seniors. Most often the hardest hit by rising housing prices and taxes, these apartments offer a much-needed resource for the elders of our community.

The addition of these new apartments raises the total of Wilton’s affordable housing units to 263, or 4.01% of the housing stock per the 2010 census (6,475 units), according to Town Planner Bob Nerney. He explained affordable housing is divided by the number of housing units in the community as defined by the latest census.

Working its way to completion next to Wilton Commons is a 30-unit apartment house with nine affordable units. When that is completed, Wilton will have 272 affordable units, moving us up to 4.2% of available housing stock.

While all of this is good news, for every step forward there are, unfortunately, a few steps back.

Requirements for affordable housing have changed over the years, Nerney told The Bulletin. Today, the Affordable Appeals Land Use Act requires housing units built as affordable remain that way for 40 years. However, when the state statute came out in the mid-80s, housing only needed to remain affordable for 20 years. Some of that early housing — in particular 21 units at Avalon Wilton on Center Street — will return to market rates next year.

So while Wilton makes some gains, it will also experience some losses.

The state has set a goal for towns to have 10% of their housing be affordable, but in a town like Wilton, where there is not a surplus of buildable land, and any land is expensive, that is a lofty goal, most likely unachievable.

But it is a worthy goal to pursue nevertheless.

Connecticut statute 8-30G requires that developers building under this statute reserve 30% of units for affordable housing. Fifty percent of those should be made available to those who earn 80% or less of the state median income and the other 50% for those who earn 60% or less of the state median income.

The state median income for 2015, the latest number available, is $55,220, according to the Connecticut Department of Social Services.

Wilton should continue to explore opportunities for affordable housing, particularly in areas that would be attractive to a younger demographic just starting out in the workforce that perhaps would move up to more traditional homes here.