Monday, May 08, 2006

Affording a House in Connecticut

It's not easy, according to this article from the excellent Corner Report, which I am making an effort to read more often.

Maybe more important than how to afford a house (answer: debt!) is who can afford a house:
Amid all the facts and figures discussed at a forum on affordable housing Saturday, one fact stood out from all the rest: Affordable housing in Connecticut is no longer an issue only for low income earners, but also for those earning middle class incomes.
It was a timely discussion of an issue that is becoming increasingly urgent across the state where housing costs have mushroomed by almost 64 percent between 2000 and 2005, while wages rose 18.5 percent.(Toensing)

The ratio of housing cost increases to wage increases is a pretty shocking figure. Of course, some of the lack of affordable has to do with the real estate bubble, but there's a big piece of it that has more to do with town governments and property taxes.

Towns, especially those lacking sizable industrial bases, need to keep developers building houses in order to expand their property tax base. But they don't want to build houses that might attract families who need a lot of government services, like schools, social services and so on. They also want houses that will deliver more in property tax revenue. Therefore, what gets built is huge homes on big pieces of land that normal families can't really afford. It's not an exaggeration to say that the middle class is being squeezed out of the new home market.

It's also not an exaggeration to say that a lot of middle-income families are buying these homes anyway, which drives them deeper and deeper into debt.

I live in a suburban neighborhood full of little ranch houses on quarter-acre lots. An awful lot of Enfield was built in the 1950s, which is why these neighborhoods exist. New construction across town is very different. My wife and I couldn't afford to live in those homes. Heck, the way prices have increased, my wife and I couldn't actually afford to buy the home we live in now(a recent appraisal has proved that)!- We only bought the place in 2002, but the price has gone up by 69% since.

Until towns and the state figure out a way to get a handle on property taxes, this situation isn't going to resolve itself.

In the meantime, I am not moving.


Toensing, Gale Courey. "Affordable housing now a middle income issue." The Corner Report 7 May, 2006.


GMR said...

I have long felt, even though I am a homeowner, that the housing boom on the coast of the United States is no good for our economy and our society in the long-run.

Much of the lack of affordable housing has to do with zoning. Certain towns like Wilton and Greenwich mandate multiple acre lots in large sections of the town. Obviously, if you have one acre zoning, you can build only 640 houses per square mile (and in reality, less than that due to roads and other public access items and lakes, etc).

This has caused high land prices, so when a piece of land is available, it makes sense for the developer to build a very large house on it. It often makes sense to buy a small house, demolish it, and build a big house due to the high land prices.

Other towns do other things to keep families out. Ridgefield is approving various age-restricted housing off of Bennett's Farm Road and where Schlumberger is presently. These townhouse complexes would be open only to those over 55 or 60. That's the only way the town would approve the zoning.

Some towns simply buy land in the name of "open space" to stop additional construction.

What's amazing to me, however, is that many of the same people that advocate unrestricted immigration are the same ones that advocate stricter zoning to prevent more houses from being built.

It's not all regulation, however. Connecticut has Long Island sound bordering to the south, which prevents any sort of sprawl from happening southwards.

stomv said...

There's another problem with this trend, too.

Big houses require more energy to heat them, cool them, light them, and entertain in them. This results in a greater demand for natural gas, heating oil, and electricity. That last one is the big problem, because the New England grid is becomming stressed, particularly during warm summer weekdays. Large houses put a big per capita burden on the grid, and result in far more energy consumption per person.

This kind of zoning also leads to strip mall uglies, and to using lots of gas to do errands "around town", resulting in towns that are lousy for cyclists and pedestrians, and encouraging of overconsumption of gasoline.

What's the fix? I have no idea. I grew up in a "starter home" on a half acre lot in Brookfield, CT. It was ideal for kids (many kids in small space) and it was a cul de sac, so there was no through traffic. The problem is, development like this results in towns increasing the percentage of citizens in public schools, which gets awfully expensive awfully quickly.

So long as schools are funded through property tax, towns will be pressured to not be kid-friendly. The long term implications of this are not so good.

bluecoat said...

GC: policy wonk JDS is the only gubernatorial candidiate talking about this; he has been totally mischaracterized by the GOP on his position on property tax reform since wht he is really saying is let's have debate rather than trying to force a particular set of legislation - but he fails o articulate what he proposes time and time again; Malloy on the other hand has fostered a lot of building of so-called affordable housing in Stamford but only as a compromise measure to his overdevelop the corridor to the east of him to support all his big buildings with high paying finance jobs in them to support his raise more property tax revenue strategy. And a big problem in CT is the metrics on this stuuf too, since a lot of housing that is truly affordanle is not counted in the state's definition. And another peice is the state is encouraging the creation of the wrong kind of jobs,

Thomas Craven said...


Why do you classify Mayor Malloy's Affordable Housing initiatives as "so-called"?

And why would you think that his city wide initiatives are only a compromise for the overdevelopment of another area.

As a Stamford resident I feel like I need to come the defense of my Mayor.

Some stats from the "Dan Record" section of his website, -

Has successfully obtained federal grants to redevelop areas of Stamford, including a $26 million grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove blight from a Stamford housing complex.

Provided a Brownfields Revolving Loan to address the clean-up of a contaminated oil tank farm and ship yard in order to provide for 325 housing units.

Aided the growth of Stamford's downtown housing stock, fostering the addition of over 4,000 housing units in the last several years, with plans for developing another 1,700 units.

I would love to see the same type of "so called" affordable housing strategy to be applied statewide.

I will also say that the East Side of Stamford isnt over developed in my opinion. At times I do think that downtown has been overdeveloped, but certainly not the East Side.

Mayor Malloy's plan for affordable housing - which forces new developments to include 10% of the residences to be classified as affordable, or take that same $$$ value and put it into the affordable housing pool - works in Stamford.

AND Stamford is the only city in the ENTIRE state to have such a plan in place.

Anyone who thinks that Mayor Malloy isnt a "policy wonk" (god I hate that overused term) simply isnt in touch with the issues.

I only wish that Mayor Malloy wasnt running for Governor. I want him to be the Mayor of my town for another 14 years.

Mmmm Jodi Rell said...

TC - if you're gonig to schill for Malloy, you might want to avoid using stats that you pulled right from his website.

Thomas Craven said...


How could I not shill for my Mayor, I love the guy.

And its not exactly a secret as to where I pulled my numbers for, I cleary stated that they came from his website.

bluecoat said...

the "affordable housing" tag has an expiration date; I hope he stays your Mayor because his policies have crowded the transportation system and driven affordable housing out of other communities. i was willing to give the guy a pass that he might do something different as guv but he' touting hos record saying he'd do more of the same for the state ' no thanks and I can't vote in the primary either.

bluecoat said...

And it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to say somebody who doesn't have a horse in the race doesn't understand the issues if you are looking for votes BUT I take no offesne personally becuase i don't decide on the personalities of a cnadidate's minions.

bluecoat said...

and by the corridor to the east of him I wasn't talking about the part of Stamford to the esat of his swanky Shippan neighborhood, I was talking about the corridor that was screwed up to start with on transportation before he started and is worse than ever now. Anybody with half an ounc of urbn planning understanding knows Stamford has been bad for the region and it will cost a ton of money and a good deal of time to straighten it out.

Thomas Craven said...


While I respect your opinion (even though I greatly disagree with it) that "Stamford has been bad for the region", why would the Mayor/First Selectmen of any city consider his own cities repercussions on the region?

His or her first(and really only) obligation is to make thier own town as great as it can be. The leader represents his own tax/voting base, and no one elses.

It is the responsibility of the leaders on the next level up whos task it is to make sure that the sum of the communities is greater than its parts, not the community leaders themselves.

In my opinion.

GMR said...

Why is it the fault of Stamford that the transportation east of Stamford is screwed up? What is Stamford supposed to do? Tell all the companies not to move there because they create jobs, which creates strain on the transportation system? Is creating jobs now a bad thing?