Stamford is fast becoming a city of high-earning renters, but home ownership, for many, is slipping out of reach.
Low- and moderate-income homeowners are leaving Stamford, and renters at those salary levels are struggling to survive – if they can find affordable units in a market that falls far short of demand.
Though Stamford creates more affordable housing units, by far, than any municipality in Fairfield County, it is nowhere near enough.
So concludes a 10-month study commissioned by Stamford officials to fulfill a mandate from Hartford to develop a housing affordability plan.
State lawmakers confronting the state’s strong demand for affordable housing have required that all municipalities adopt a plan by June 1.
To do it, Stamford paid a New York firm, HR&A Advisors, $237,500 to evaluate the city’s housing situation and create a guide for future affordable housing policies and investments.
Members of the Stamford Planning Board Tuesday voted to accept the document, though they said they want to debate the recommendations.
Lauren Meyer, spokeswoman for Mayor Caroline Simmons, said the plan will be submitted to the state, but its recommendations “will require various approvals from boards or commissions in the coming years. As with all plans, there may be changes in Stamford’s landscape or policy priorities over time that change the outcomes.”
Among HR&A’s findings:
- Multiple families are sharing homes where landlords do not make repairs. It’s particularly true for immigrant families.
- Senior citizens are struggling to keep their homes or find suitable alternatives that are affordable.
- People who work in Stamford often cannot live here, and long-term residents cannot afford to stay.
The city has one of the country’s most successful Below Market Rate programs, which require developers to include a certain percentage of affordable units in their projects, HR&A found.
But the BMR program, which oversees more than 1,000 units so far, needs a staff to track units coming online, ensure regulations are followed, and manage tenant wait lists.
Among HR&A’s recommendations:
- The BMR program and two others – the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Housing and Community Development – are too scattered, administered by different departments that must be brought under one roof with more staff and resources.
- The city needs five times the funding now allocated to affordable housing if it is to meet demand, and should increase the amount of contributions from developers.
- The city should work with developers to convert office and retail space into housing, and to build condominiums.
- The city should identify public land that can be used for affordable housing.
- The city should consider permitting 2- to 4-unit structures in zones that now allow only single-family housing.
One of the consultant’s conclusions is something Stamford residents have said for years: “The city should seek ways to monitor overcrowding and address substandard housing and code enforcement issues.”
Beyond the recommendations, the consultant’s data analysis provides a remarkable illustration of what’s happened in Stamford’s housing market since 2010.
- About 35,600 renter households have incomes of $60,000 or less, and there are 20,600 rental units on the market that they can afford, leaving a shortage of 15,000 units.
- For the 14,286 renter households earning at least $80,000, there is no shortage of units they can afford.
- For the 16,684 renter households earning at least $100,000, there is a surplus of units they can afford – 2,200 at the time of the study.
- Stamford grew by 2,750 households since 2010, with 58 percent earning $150,000 or more. During that time, 3,700 low- and moderate-income households left.
- The new high-earners are mostly renters; the low- and moderate-income households that left were mostly homeowners.
- People age 34 and under are overwhelmingly renters. Those 35 to 54 are evenly split between renters and owners. Those age 55 to 74 are owners by a margin of more than 2-1.
- Since 2010, Stamford lost 2,750 housing units that rent for less than $1,500 a month, but the number of units renting for more than that increased 70 percent, which is largely in line with the county and the state.
- Median home value is $540,000, which requires a household income of about $120,000 to afford. Home values differ wildly by neighborhood. Westover is the most expensive, with a median home value of nearly $900,000. North Stamford and Shippan are roughly tied for second place.
- Home values were stagnant until 2020, when the pandemic started a buying boom and values in Stamford spiked 5 percent to 11 percent in all neighborhoods.
- A household must earn about $75,000 to not be cost-burdened, which is when an owner or renter spends 30 percent or more of income on housing. Even new high-income renters are cost-burdened, perhaps because they are willing to pay more to live where they want.
- The supply of condominiums dropped 20 percent since 2010. Condos and other multi-family buildings, as well as single-family homes, are being converted into rentals. Only a handful of single-family homes have been built in Stamford since 2010.
- Stamford has a substantial share of Fairfield County’s subsidized affordable housing stock. With 14 percent of the county’s population, Stamford far exceeds that in the number of affordable units, housing vouchers, low-income tax credits, and other accounts.
- White households own homes at more than twice the rate of Black and Hispanic households.
- Stamford neighborhoods that are adding housing are gaining primarily White and Asian renters. The West Side added more than 500 rental units since 2010 but the Black population there declined by about 650 households.