By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON - The town needs more than 180 new units of affordable housing to meet state guidelines. About 50 people listened to the details, asked questions, and aired their opinions at a special town meeting at the new Wheeler Middle/High School Monday night, Jan. 6.
The special meeting was the first of two parts. Voters are being asked to come to the polling station at Town Hall for a referendum on Monday, Jan. 13, between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. There, they will be confronted with a single question:
Shall the Town of North Stonington be authorized to negotiate the sale of the property located at 163 Wintechog Hill Road for the development of affordable housing?
While it’s a single question, it’s not a simple question.
What the question doesn’t say is that if the voters say yes, the town will put out a Request For Proposal to non-profit developers whose mission is creating affordable housing. If one of their proposals meets the town’s goals - providing affordable rental units in town - then the town will begin the process of selling the property to the non-profit.
As proposed, the project being voted on would provide 55 affordable bedrooms. It would be up to the developer to show how those bedrooms were to be arranged - in stand-alone houses, multi-unit houses, or a configuration of both.
The proposals from the non-profit developers would face plenty of scrutiny.
“The Town wants to maintain control of the number of units, the design, affordability, and the length of the affordability in years,” explained Juliet Hodge, North Stonington’s Planning, Development, and Zoning Official.
Thus, if the voters authorize the town to move toward a sale of the land, which was donated to the town in 2008 in hopes it would be used for affordable housing, the town still has plenty of say before anything actually happens there. In fact, voters will still have to approve the final sale of the land.
Hodge and members of the Affordable Housing Committee have been working on this project for years.
“We’ve taken it as far as we can take it,” she said. It’s time for a developer “to take it on now.”
Let’s take a break here and define affordable housing a bit.
Many people confuse affordable housing and low-income housing.
“It should be called ‘workforce housing’, Hodge said as an aside. She sees it as what nurses, teachers, retired persons, and young people entering the workforce can afford.
But affordable housing is on a sliding scale. What is affordable in each town is relative to the town’s median income. In North Stonington, the median income is nearly $85,000; Stonington’s is about $79,000. Groton’s is about $64,000 while New London’s is about $37,500. Salem’s is in the range of $107,000.
There seemed to be a unanimous opinion at the meeting - at least no objectors spoke up - that North Stonington wants to house its workforce. It was the “where” of affordable housing that was at issue.
Several of the neighbors - on Wintechog Hill and Wright roads - advised against selling this property for affordable housing for various reasons - high water table, too much traffic, too remote.
“We need it to be in the center of things, “ said Linda Smith of Wright Road. “Why don’t we choose another spot?”
“Whose going to pay when those septic systems fail?” asked Joseph Holt of Wright Road. “That’s why it was a pig farm.”
If the referendum passes, the process of getting proposals for the property will sort some of those issues out. But North Stonington will still need more “workforce housing.”
Here’s a bunch of affordable housing resources for Milltown Monitor’s readers
2018 Housing Fact Sheet- SECHA
Comprehensive Housing Plan
Original NSAHC Report
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