Several residents in Town have formed a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization, the Barkhamsted Housing Trust, LLC, whose objective is to develop housing suitable for those just starting out in the workforce, as well as those seniors interested in down-sizing or moving to a home that requires little-to-no outside maintenance. In early 2015, the Planning & Zoning Commission designated property in the west end of Town, near the Winsted Town Line, as an Incentive Housing Zone or District (IH). An IH is an overlay zone over the existing zoning, and allows for more flexibility in housing density and the types of housing that can be built, as compared to our normal residential zoning.
The IH was adopted pursuant to the authority of Connecticut General Statutes Chapter 124b. Its purpose is to encourage affordable housing in both residential and business districts that have transportation connections, nearby access to amenities and services, and infrastructure necessary to support concentrations of development. The IH seeks to provide a variety of housing types and opportunities, which are intended to help a range of people, from young families and new folks entering the workforce to retirees or senior citizens. At the same time, it is critical to retain the rural character of the community, and the IH is designed to preserve environmentally sensitive areas. Both of these goals are consistent with the Town Plan of Conservation and Development.
A key goal of this initiative is that the IH help moderate the cost of housing and, at the same time, improve housing options. Affordable housing is defined by the median household income in Barkhamsted, which is in excess of $100,000. Therefore, the income in Town to qualify for affordable housing is 80% of that figure, or around $80,000 per the State statutes. This is not the same as low income housing, which is sometimes called Section 8 Low Income Housing. This latter type of housing falls under a totally different federal housing category, and is not being considered by the Housing Trust.
To help study the feasibility of constructing affordable housing in Barkhamsted, the State Department of Housing (DOH) provided two grants. The first one was used to do the engineering and research to pick the areas for the IH, and the second one was awarded by the DOH for having completed the zone and having it codified by the Town’s residents. This latter funding, with approval by the Board of Selectmen, is being used by the Trust to start the process of producing a modest size housing complex in the IH.
The Housing Trust, chaired by Christina Lavieri, who is also chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, includes Cynthia Eastman Williams, Debbie Brydon, Julia Pattison, Karen Brett, Sharon Neumann-Lynes and Walt Nicksa. Don Stein, First Selectman, and Ray Pech, Selectman, attend the meetings of the organization and work with the Board, but they are not voting members.
The Trust has contracted with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, known as LISC, one of the country's largest organizations supporting projects to revitalize communities and bring greater economic opportunity to residents. LISC invests in affordable housing, better schools, safer streets, growing businesses and programs that connect people with financial opportunity. They provide the capital, strategy, and know-how to local partners to get this done. LISC will be instrumental in providing funding for early phases, and then will help obtain the significant funding needed for the final project.
The Trust has also contracted with the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development (WIHED), another non-profit, whose mission is “to promote economic resilience and stable homes by developing and preserving high quality affordable housing…” WIHED is based in Hartford, and has partnered with over 70 local organizations, public agencies and community groups to create housing throughout our region. As of 2017, they had developed or preserved 1,670 units across 80 properties through direct development and development consulting. LISC and WIHED are currently providing consulting and will help in obtaining grants that will be needed, should the trust be successful in moving forward. Both are expected to be instrumental in helping guide the Housing Trust through the maze of the regulatory and financial hurdles that must be overcome to develop a successful project.
Currently, the Trust has purchased an option to buy the Mallory Brook Farm behind the Mallory Brook Plaza. This property was the key element of the IH, as it is close to the Mallory Brook Plaza, the Ledgebrook Plaza in Winsted, Route 8, and the new medical center being built in Winsted on Route 44 near the Community College. It is also easily served by the Northwest Transit District for those who can no longer drive.
Along with the option to buy the property, the Trust is contracting with Lifecare Design (LCD), an architectural firm, with experience in similar housing developments. LCD will produce feasibility designs of housing that meets the needs of the community, that are consistent with our natural beauty, and that are consistent with the objectives of the Trust. Once the Trust has obtained sufficient funding, LCD will do the detailed architectural work necessary to obtain project funding and to construct the units.
The most likely scenario is 10-20 attached apartments, including a combination of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom, mostly single-level, units. One of the requirements of the IH is that a minimum of 20% of these units be classified as affordable, but up to 80% do not have to be. Based on the work to be done, the effort required to raise sufficient funding for construction, and the uncertainty of State grants or loans, it is likely that the project will take at least 1-2 years before construction can begin. This length of time is of concern as there are many senior citizens in town anxious for housing like this, as they do not want to move out of Barkhamsted, when they are no longer able to live in the homes they currently occupy.
Before any construction can begin, the project details will be presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission. Public meetings or hearings will be held as part of that process, and we will make you aware of these meetings so that you can be fully informed on the details. These hearings and meetings will provide you with the opportunity to comment and to influence the end result.
The members of the Housing Trust are modeling much of their activities on similar developments in towns like Norfolk, Cornwall and Sharon, where projects have been completed or are underway. The successful projects in these towns are very consistent with the character of their community (similar to Barkhamsted’s rural character), and they clearly fill a need for the residents of these other small, rural communities.