New Milford seeks affordable housing plan

Photo of Currie Engel
Carolyn Dion empties the dishwasher in her kitchen at Indian Fields, an affordable housing complex in New Milford on Thursday, January 12, 2012.

Carolyn Dion empties the dishwasher in her kitchen at Indian Fields, an affordable housing complex in New Milford on Thursday, January 12, 2012.

Carol Kaliff / Carol Kaliff

NEW MILFORD — New Milford is looking for a new affordable housing plan, with the hopes of increasing the town’s affordable housing from its current share of roughly 4.7 percent.

The initiative couldn’t come at a better time, officials said

Recently, New Milford Affordable Housing has been getting calls about younger people who are struggling with mental health and having a hard time finding suitable housing, said Mary Jane Lundgren, a town council member and president of the nonprofit.

New Milford’s lack of homeless shelters means that those unable to secure housing end up at the Danbury shelter, she said.

“I just think it’s going to get a lot worse with COVID,” Lundgren said. “There’s just no question that a lot of people are really falling behind to the point where they’re going to be homeless.”

The purchasing department is accepting applications from professional planners and consulting firms ready to develop the plan. The proposal must outline a plan to evaluate demographics, resources, and future housing needs, and then determine a strategy and recommendations for the town.

A $15,000 state grant will help fund the selected proposal, but a price tag won’t be finalized until a winner is declared.

“We kind of wanted to take stock of where we are,” said Mayor Pete Bass, of the plan.

They’re focused on providing workforce housing and homes to those who can’t afford New Milford prices. About 400 condo units have already been pre-approved for construction, but haven’t yet been built. Bass said he hopes a new proposal will remedy this.

Republican incumbent Mayor Pete Bass participates in the League of Woman Voters of Litchfield County debate on Thursday night, October 24, 2019, at Sarah Noble Intermediate School, New Milford, Conn.

Republican incumbent Mayor Pete Bass participates in the League of Woman Voters of Litchfield County debate on Thursday night, October 24, 2019, at Sarah Noble Intermediate School, New Milford, Conn.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

Over 75 percent of houses in New Milford are single-family homes, and more than half of renters are “cost-burdened,” said Michele Shackelford, coordinator for healthy, efficient and diverse housing for Sustainable CT in the town.

Current affordable housing options for residents include two complexes run by New Milford Affordable Housing and units at another developer’s property.

“There is a big need,” Lundgren said.

She said the nonprofit has a waiting list of people interested in their affordable and supportive units.

“We’ll never be empty,” she said

The state has encouraged municipalities to meet a 10 percent threshold for affordable housing stock, with the aim of getting towns to improve their margins. This type of plan would help put New Milford on the road toward alignment with this goal.

As a member of Sustainable CT, a voluntary state certification program, participating municipalities including New Milford must have an affordable housing plan in place by Aug. 1. While Bass has been spearheading the initiative with the state grant, Shackelford said the mayor’s plans align with their own Sustainable CT goals.

Several other towns in Litchfield County have also started creating their own affordable housing initiatives, including Warren, Washington, and the Salisbury area.

Shackelford said the initiative would also help attract younger people to the area and allow older couples to downsize.

“We are rapidly aging and we’re not replacing individuals with young families,” she said.

In the next 10 to 20 years, Shackelford said they expect a 17 percent decrease in school-age children in New Milford, and roughly the same increase in households with adults in their 50s.

While the purchasing department could not confirm the number of proposals they’ve received from bidders, purchasing specialist Valerie Douglass said they’re very happy with the interest they’ve seen so far.

The request for proposals will expire next Thursday, and by March 11, the town will award the contract to one of the bidders. A tentative project completion date has been set for June 30.

Bass is also focused on making sure future housing plans keep with the “charm and character” of the town.

“That’s why people come to move here,” he said. “It’s because of our beautiful downtown, our parks, our trails.”