OLD LYME — The Affordable Housing Committee made two initial recommendations to the Board of Selectmen Monday night that include urging the town to move forward with building two affordable units on McCulloch Farm before the option expires in 2024 and forming an Affordable House Commission to address long term goals and compliance issues, especially those related to the 8-30j law.
“We were launched in February this year with an exploratory mission to wrap our hands around affordable housing in Old Lyme,” said Mike Fogliano, chair of the committee, who presented the recommendations to the board by phone.
Fogliano said that according to Department of Housing data, just 82 units out of about 5,021 housing units in Old Lyme qualify as affordable under state statute — including seasonal properties.
Old Lyme has about 1.6 percent affordable housing, he said, which puts the town near the bottom of the state and a long way from the 10 percent exemption threshold for 8-30g development. He said the town has about 60 units of affordable housing in the senior community, about 18 units are rental-assisted mortgages and only three are deed-restricted houses.
“This is not unique to Old Lyme. If you look across the state at the affordable housing units in Connecticut in both towns that have and have not met the 10 percent threshold, the fraction of deed-restricted housing is very very low,” Fogliano said. “We’re not alone in that.”
He said achieving the 10 percent threshold by relying on deed-restricted units would be a “very heavy lift.”
Fogliano said the committee’s first recommendation was the formation of a project team to assess whether the town should exercise its option to build two single-family homes on McCulloch Farm, a 300-acre property the town purchased for $600,000 in Sept. 2019 as open space. The agreement included two “building envelopes” of three acres each on Flat Rock Road designated for affordable housing. The price of the two lots — $50,000 each — was included in the total price. If the town does not exercise its option to build within five years of the agreement date, the two lots will be redesignated as open space.
Fogliano said the second recommendation — to form an Affordable Housing Commission — pertains partly to 8-30j, a law passed in 2017 that requires all towns to make an affordable housing plan by 2022 and renew the plan at least once every five years.
Fogliano said a commission could monitor 8-30j compliance requirements and provide annual and five-year updates, data reviews and maintenance plans for affordable housing. The commission would also monitor the 8-30g law and its requirements.
The commission could also help coordinate among a number of town departments and commissions, he said.
“We’ve discovered there is really a network of town functions that touch on affordable housing and those include planning, zoning, open space, economic development and the Sustainable Old Lyme group — and there may be others,” Fogliano said.
A commission could serve as the contact point for grants and nonprofit organizations, he said, while monitoring legislation and identifying opportunities locally and regionally
“The other thing we’re seeing is affordable housing is a pretty active space. It’s evolved pretty rapidly in terms of public policy and practices as well as legislation that should be monitored,” he said, citing 8-30j as an example.
Fogliano said that most neighboring towns along the shoreline have a single point of accountability for affordable housing, whether it’s the town planner or a commission. He also said there may be opportunities for towns to join together in the creation of affordable housing projects.
“The [Old Lyme] committee will sunset in early 2021 so we don’t want to lose continuity,” he said. “We still have a lot of work going on and we plan to give you a full report with additional recommendations early in the year, but that’s what we have so far.”
Griswold said that some lower-priced properties in town do not qualify as affordable housing total because they lack a deed restriction.
Fogliano agreed and said accessory apartments are another uncounted factor in the town’s total.
“I’m aware that there are an unknown number of rentals and potentially owned houses that, but for a deed restriction might qualify as affordable housing. We’re not sure how to get at that. I doubt we’ll have a concrete plan on how to approach that by early next year, it’s something that should be on our radar screen,” he said.