What Housing Choice Looks Like

 

Last month I joined the Southeastern Connecticut Housing Alliance for a tour of affordable housing under construction across the region. The Alliance coordinated the tour as part of its mission to educate stakeholders, elected officials, and residents on the need for affordable housing and to advocate for its production.

The properties we visited that day exemplify the diversity of housing opportunities that should be the goal of Connecticut’s housing industry: housing affordable to residents that comes in lots of types and locations, from single-family home ownership, to suburban rental, industrial lofts, and downtown condos.

For most participants, the highlight of the tour was the chance to go inside Ponemah Mills, a massive industrial complex that dates to the 1870s and sits on the banks of the Shetucket River in Taftville. On a cool day in October the site is spectacular, with views from Ponemah’s windows over the old mill dam and riverbanks on the opposite side. The first 116 of what will eventually be a 314-unit apartment community will open in 2017, with more than 180 of those units preserved as affordable. Now, though, the mill’s ground floor resembles a giant roller-skating rink, its open space only interrupted by two rows of supporting columns that will soon mark the corridors between the east and west apartments. How many mill buildings like Ponemah sit abandoned or under-used across Connecticut?

In Stonington, we visited the construction site of Spruce Meadows, where 86 apartments are being built on the site of a vacant furniture store and adjacent land. The Town of Stonington is a perfect example of what housing advocates refer to as a “high opportunity” community, with high rates of employment and home ownership. Habitat for Humanity brought us to an infill site in Norwich, where a single-family home was being prepped for its new owners. The executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut, Terri O’Rourke, told us that she has a five-year backlog of properties for her organization to build or renovate. Our tour concluded in downtown New London, where the City Flats project is turning abandoned or foreclosed multifamily homes into brand new condominiums, the kinds of homes that millennials, with their preference for downtown living, can both afford and want to live in.

Our tour demonstrated that there is no one-size-fits-all way to deliver housing, and that opportunities to expand housing can be found in all kinds of places.

Amanda Kennedy is the Director of Special Projects at the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments. She provides staff support to the Southeastern Connecticut Housing Alliance, a non-profit organization formed in 2007 after a study of the region commissioned by the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments revealed a region in crisis with respect to affordable housing. 

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