Some Wilton residents feeling squeezed out by rent hikes

WILTON — Some renters in town say they are facing increases as much as $650 per month lease-over-lease or nearly $8,000 a year.

For some, it’s forcing them to leave Wilton for places where there are more affordable housing options. Some say the rising rents are turning away young families and professionals — key demographics the town's Wilton Center master plan process aims to attract.

Hearst Connecticut Media Group interviewed a number of renters in town who say they are frustrated with the increasing costs to live in Wilton and the limited number of non-single family housing options. The renters interviewed declined to have their names published because they feared retribution from their property management or landlords.

According to the town’s affordable housing plan, 41 percent of Wilton renters are considered cost-burdened, which means at least 30 percent of their annual income goes toward housing.

Officials are looking to address this in town and across Connecticut, where it is also an issue, though vary on the approach and whether to create a commission to address concerns about high rent hikes on top of increasing the housing stock.

Feeling squeezed out

One resident raised concerns they would have to move their family and children outside of Wilton due to price hikes while others question how they would afford their next lease increase, calling it “absurd.”

Avalon Bay, which owns and operates Avalon Wilton on River Road, and Lincoln Apartments, which owns and operates White Oaks on Danbury Road, have not responded to inquiries on lease pricing trends in their regional properties.

“I think that everybody wants their grandkids and their kids to be able to come back to this state and start a career here, start a small business here, start a family here and maybe before they can afford one of the big single-family homes in town,” said state Sen. Will Haskell, who also rents. “And I think that everybody wants their grandparents to be able to retire here, to downsize from their big single-family home without having to abandon the community where they built their lives.”

He also believes those who work in town — including teachers, firefighters and police officers — should be able to afford to live in the communities in which they serve, whether it be Wilton, New Canaan or Ridgefield.

Some renters have come forward and said the rent is currently untenable for young families looking to have their children attend the highly sought-after school district. Some, though, are “grinning and bearing it” to be able to keep children in the schools and in the community they so deeply admire.

According to United Way of Connecticut, a nonprofit that provides residents with information and connection to services, there were 53 calls related to housing from Wilton residents between June 21, 2021 and June 21, 2022 in the Town of Wilton.

Haskell said these concerns have been addressed this year at a state level, but don’t directly impact Wilton, yet.

Fair Rent Commission

Legislators voted in April to mandate all towns and cities over a population of 25,000 institute a fair rent commission for renters citing these kinds of issues. This directly impacts 45 communities in the state.

Although Wilton’s population falls under 19,000, according to Connecticut General Statue 7-148b, any municipality has the authority to establish a fair rent commission by an act of the city or town’s legislative body. That commission would then have the authority to receive and investigate rent complaints, issue subpoenas, hold hearings and order landlords to reduce rents for justifiable reasons.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said that would have to be something that was brought to the selectmen and, eventually, a town vote. However, she said she is unlikely to bring that to the board. The focus for the town, she said, is bringing in more development to provide more units and a diversity of housing options.

“Right now, what we are doing, we are trying to encourage more diversity of housing in Wilton. I think putting something like this in place would discourage investment in Wilton,” she said. “So it wouldn’t be consistent with the goals of the community.”

Haskell, who voted in favor of this measure, said that if the statute is successful with larger towns, maybe it could be built upon in other communities with smaller populations.

Lack of options & supply issues

Both Vanderslice and Haskell said there need to be more housing options in town, which could in turn help with rent prices due to supply and demand.

“In terms of market rate units, they’re exactly that: market rate,” Vanderslice said, adding that the town does not play any role besides trying to add to the town’s housing stock: both affordable and market rate.

It is important to note that none of the units in question by those residents who have come forward are over affordable housing units. Both Vanderslice and Haskell referenced Wilton’s adopted affordable housing plan to help add more, which the latter commended.

The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission has approved multifamily developments in the past two years and continues to review new applications. But some residents worry for the interim while those developments are being planned and built. Those who have come forward have cited a lack of other options in town.

Haskell did also agree with Vanderslice that there is an issue of supply in Wilton and across the state.

According to the latest statistics compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau in November 2020 by the National Multifamily Housing Council, Connecticut ranked 26th in the country in total apartment stock. In Wilton, per a study by Partnership for Strong Communities, 8.6 percent of its housing units lie in buildings with 10 or more total units, compared to Fairfield County’s 14.2 percent.

“We’ve come in dead last when I look at how many units Connecticut has built over the last six years,” Haskell said. “Because we are not building housing, and because people want to live here, it makes perfect sense that rent is increasing for so many families who can barely afford it.”