OLD LYME — The newly-appointed Affordable Housing Exploratory Committee held its first meeting Monday night, with members sharing that they do not think that the town would necessarily be able to meet the statewide goal of 10 percent affordable housing, but that Old Lyme could do more for teachers, service workers, and longtime residents.
The committee, appointed by the Board of Selectmen in January, was charged with researching the resources, regulations and issues of affordable housing as they relate to Old Lyme, and to recommend a housing strategy to the town.
Committee member Thomas Ortoleva said early in the meeting that it’s unlikely that the town would reach the goal of having 10 percent of housing qualify as affordable under current state statute, “but I think everyone at this table would agree that people who grew up in this town should be able to afford to live here.”
Griswold said similarly that when defining “affordable” housing in state regulations, “the deed restriction is what qualifies the house as affordable, not the [price of the] rent.”
In towns with less than 10 percent affordable housing, Connecticut state law allows for developers proposing 30 percent or more affordable housing to circumvent local zoning restrictions, Griswold said.
Griswold said that his first priority for the group would be for them to find or develop an inventory of affordable housing in Old Lyme.
Several members said that they know of Old Lyme residents who struggled to find a place to live and suggested that they research if and how affordable housing efforts in town could prioritize people who already live in Old Lyme.
“Charity begins at home,” said member John Coughlin.
Committee member Tammy Tinnerello, who works as a real estate agent, said that her business had taken calls at times from residents crying because they had lost their housing from some unpredictable incident and then couldn’t find another place where they could afford to live in Old Lyme.
And she added, “There are also older people who are downsizing, but don’t want to leave [town].”
“They’re not choosing this situation. It just happens, and we don’t want to turn our back on them,” Tinnerello said, adding later, “We have a need for our own residents right off the top.”
Griswold said that he expected that the committee would try to keep any affordable housing in line with Old Lyme’s appearance and character. Tinnerello suggested similarly that the committee could research single-family homes and duplex options for affordable housing because many people in Old Lyme might dislike the appearance of clustered developments.
Committee member Karen Winters said that in Lyme, the town asks any donor of land for open space to consider setting aside part of the property for affordable housing.
Ortoleva said that similar ideas had been floated in Old Lyme before but groups advocating for affordable housing in town hadn’t had “a seat at the table.” Ortoleva, a former member of the advisory board for the housing nonprofit Hope Partnership, also noted that the conversation about affordable housing in Old Lyme had been invigorated by the controversy last fall surrounding the proposed 37-unit housing development adjacent to I-95 Exit 70.
“If people are thinking about it then maybe they’ll do something,” Ortoleva said. “Nobody was thinking about affordable housing until Hope was coming in here and it got such a negative reaction. Unfortunately we saw a bad reaction in town against affordable housing, but I think the people that are here, are here because they want to do something.”
The committee agreed to schedule meetings for the third Monday of every month, with an additional meeting planned for February 24.
Committee meetings are open to the public and subject to all the regulations of a usual town board, Griswold said.
Members reached a consensus to consider voting for a chairperson at their next meeting.
Winters suggested that before the next meeting, members research what steps other towns have taken in addressing affordable housing.
“This is a process that’s happening everywhere,” Winters said. “Let’s not reinvent the wheel here.”
Committee member Michael Fogliano added that other towns could offer a lot of relevant information and then “our job will be to find it, collate, and organize it through the lens of this community.”