Rising housing costs force Elm City to change system

Facing a staggering rise in housing prices both within New Haven’s city limits and in the surrounding suburbs, city officials are taking steps to reform and restructure affordable housing in the area.

Following an aldermanic committee meeting last week concerning the need for affordable housing options, the Board of Aldermen commissioned the local firm Holt, Wexler and Farnam LLP to research the current housing crunch in the city, investigate housing solutions in other cities and return with a comprehensive plan of what the government can do to house people who work in the city in New Haven, Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said.

“Half of all the people in the city pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent,” Mattison said. “The amount of affordable housing is shrinking, not only in the city, but even faster in the suburbs.”

In addition to the lack of housing, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a press release Tuesday that the quality of current housing options could be improved, a situation the city hopes to address with the Livable City Licensing Initiative.

“This new ordinance is a way for the city to reduce blight and illegal living conditions and to raise the quality of life for renters,” DeStefano said.

The initiative began its new rental licensing and inspection program on Tuesday with the goal of improving currently existing local options for affordable housing.

Reginald Solomon, program director of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said the housing price increase phenomenon is not restricted to New Haven and has more to do with the national economic cycle. He said he bought a home in New Haven last summer through the Yale Homebuyer Program, which subsidizes the purchase of a local home for Yale employees, but he acknowledged that the program would be costly to implement on a broader scale.

“The program is not inexpensive,” Solomon said. “It’s a University investment in our employees. … There are a lot of entities who would like to do it but wouldn’t have the funding to do it.”

A possible municipal adaptation of the Yale Homebuyer Program for city employees may be on the horizon, Mattison said.

Jim Farnam of Holt, Wexler and Farnam — a firm hired by city officials to assess ideal uses of limited municipal funds — said New Haven should encourage other local employers to implement their own versions of the Yale program.

“The goal is to work with them to recommend specific policies and initiatives to address the affordable housing problem,” he said. “It’s pretty limited, but there are things that municipalities have managed to do.”

Solomon said the Mary Wade Home and St. Raphael’s Hospital have already instituted programs similar to Yale’s.

New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell said she thinks the Homebuyer Program is an ideal format because it encourages the integration of differing socio-economic classes in the same neighborhood.

“It works on a number of levels besides the very direct benefit,” she said. “It means someone’s living in the city rather than commuting from Madison. … It’s saying that the investment needs to be here.”

ONHSA Associate Vice President Michael Morand said the reasons people move to the suburbs have less to do with the cost of living than factors including the perceived quality of the schools.

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