[Excerpt from feature article by Talia Soglin, Yale Daily News, January 29, 2020]
In early January, members of newly inaugurated Mayor Justin Elicker’s transition team released a 56-page report of recommendations for the mayor’s first 100 days in office. The transition team’s report touched on 10 “areas of concentration,” including the long-standing issue of access to safe and affordable housing in the city.
The transition plan — which consists of recommendations put together by Elicker’s transition team, not commitments made by the administration — lays out separate recommendations for the mayor’s first 100 days and two-year term in office, in addition to “longer term” goals for the city. The housing recommendations are multifaceted and take into account existing citywide conversations focusing on inclusionary zoning, investment in affordable housing and housing conditions in the city.
Mark Abraham, the executive director of DataHaven, a data analysis nonprofit in New Haven — who was not consulted on the transition report — said that for homeowners or those looking to buy homes in New Haven, costs have not changed dramatically relative to income. About 72 percent of the city’s housing stock, however, are rental units. Rental costs have been on the rise since the 1990s, Abraham said, at the same time as renters’ average incomes — once adjusted for inflation — are lower than they once were.
“Everyone is paying more rent,” he said.
The issue of renter income is especially pronounced in New Haven compared to most surrounding cities and towns. In fact, New Haven outperforms each of the 14 surrounding towns that make up the South Central Regional Council of Governments in terms of the percentage of its housing stock classified as affordable — clocking in at 32 percent. Of the council, only New Haven, West Haven and Meriden meet a 10 percent standard expectation set by the state, while some towns hover as low as around one percent. But housing classified as affordable is simply less affordable to the average renter in New Haven than to the average renter in the state overall.
According to DataHaven’s 2019 community index report, most New Haven renters are $17,000 short of being able to rent a two-bedroom apartment. When looking at Greater New Haven, which includes many of the city’s wealthier suburbs, that number goes down to $10,000; in Connecticut as a whole, it is $8,000. Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter ’11 noted that state funding for affordable housing has typically pegged affordable housing rates at the county median income, which is slightly less than double the median income in New Haven.
Recommendations and Hesitations
Transition plan recommendations for the first 100 days include issuing a “call to action” to create more affordable housing in both New Haven and surrounding towns, completing a “strategic study” of housing in the city, considering a fee on market-rate developments that do not include affordable housing, and supporting zoning policies that would require affordable units to be built wherever market-rate housing is.