Stamford housing developers can pay a fee instead of building affordable units. Could this help renters?  (2023)


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STAMFORD — When Franklin Apartments opened in 2019, more than 200 people lined up to tour the deeply affordable apartment complex in Downtown Stamford.

The building has 53 units — 26 studios, 17 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom apartments — rented out to people making between 25 and 50 percent of the area's median income. In total, about 300 applications were submitted, said Richard Freedman of nonprofit developer Garden Homes Management.

"I was showing people around and people were almost crying," Freedman said of the open house event. "They were like, 'Oh my God, it's so beautiful. I really hope I get picked in the lottery.'"

About 125 people won that lottery, among them parents, children, elders and downtown workers. Hundreds more were put on a waiting list, which property manager Crystal Little said may reopen later this year for the first time since 2019. But others were likely forced to move on and search for affordable housing elsewhere, in or outside of Stamford.

Freedman said that the key to the project was about $4.2 million from the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Officials award the funds to developers, who in turn leverage them for additional subsidies and investments from government programs and other sources. And one of the main ways that the trust fund's coffers get filled are "fee-in-lieu payments" — but not everyone in local government is a fan of them.

What are fee-in-lieu payments?

Fee-in-lieu payments are a trade-off. Developers can request a special permit to pay a lump sum to the city instead of including on-site affordable housing in their market-rate developments. Affordable units are required to comprise 10 percent of any new multi-family development with at least 10 units under Stamford's Below Market Rate program, established in 2002.

On-site BMR units must be affordable to people who make at least 50 percent of the area's median income. But amid Connecticut's deepening affordable housing crisis, officials agree that what Stamford needs most is "deeply affordable housing" — homes for people who make less than 50 percent of the median income. In particular, the city lacks more spacious, three-bedroom apartments for lower-income residents — like those in Franklin Apartments.

Land Use Bureau staff say that fee-in-lieu payments can help affordable housing developers attract the necessary funding to build more deeply affordable homes, rentals or owner-occupied. As of May 9, the trust fund had approximately $2.45 million — around half of what it took to spur Franklin Apartments.

"A lot of (affordable housing) is still financed through mortgages and debt, basically. If you have fewer debts, then obviously, the conditions for the financing you can get are better," Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing told The Stamford Advocate.

Still, most BMR units continue to be built on site: According to Land Use Bureau estimates, about 80 percent of required units in the BMR program's history have been included along with market-rate offerings.

(Video) Affordable Housing Developer Makes Apartments Unaffordable For Many

Stamford Director of Housing and Community Development Emily Gordon said that the BMR program has helped retain residents who make 50 percent of the median income; however, Stamfordites who make less have not been as fortunate.

"While residents looking for a one-bedroom at 50 percent would likely see shorter wait times for a unit, residents looking for two- or three-bedroom units, or units at 30 percent often find themselves waiting for years," Gordon said.

Do they do what they're supposed to?

Some officials remain skeptical of the fee-in-lieu option.

Some frustrationswere on display April 25, when the city's Housing, Community Development and Social Services Committee met to review the BMR program. Members of the Board of Representatives asked why the Zoning Board does not mandate that more developers build affordable, three-bedroom units in market-rate projects.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable (to ask) when you’re pulling permits,” Rep. Jeffrey Stella, D-9, said.

Blessing and Gordon said the department is exploring ways to give the Zoning Board more authority over unit types. But mandating three-bedroom affordable apartments could make it more challenging to attract developers' investments in Stamford's other housing needs, Blessing said.

"It is an overall issue of increasing all types of units. We have to do more for two and three-bedrooms, but we also have needs for those other types of units," Blessing said.

Additionally, at a March 7 Planning Board meeting, alternate member William Levin expressed concern about allowing fee-in-lieu for a proposed new high-rise in downtown's Landmark Square. Levin brought up an unused $4.4 million fee-in-lieu payment set aside for downtown's St. Johns Towers. The payment predates the trust fund, which was established in 2020. It came from officials approving The Smyth, a Tresser Boulevard luxury high-rise.

"I was skeptical about not having any on-site affordable (housing) for that project. I'm just really feeling uncomfortable that this could take years and years," Levin said. "Personally, I'd rather have the 40 units right here, right in the center of downtown near where a lot of the jobs are."

Critics have also raised concerns about concentrating poverty in exclusively lower-income housing developments. On-site units, though fewer, are mixed-income housing.

Freedman said the concern is misplaced.

"There are no negative impacts from making 100 percent of the units in a building affordable," Freedman said. "Where are the negative impacts? When you concentrate people in poverty in entire cities or entire neighborhoods — that clearly has negative impacts. If you take a building like Franklin Apartments, which is 100 percent affordable, and you put it in downtown Stamford, which is a mixed-income area ... no problem."

In Connecticut's affordable housing crisis, Freedman said he believes one characteristic "vastly outweighs all the others: quantity."

"We're essentially letting a private developer determine our affordable housing policy," Freedman said ofon-site BMR units. "We just accept that whatever unit mix they've chosen and whatever location they've chosen, we take 10 percent of those units and those become affordable at 50 percent" of the median income.

An opportunity forlower-income renters

Franklin Apartments' rents are far lower than other housing being built downtown. The building is owned by Stamford-based nonprofit Inspirica, a homeless shelter and social services agency. Unlike private developers looking to turn a profit, Inspirica just has to make sure its income exceeds its expenses, Freedman said.

As of October, three-bedroom apartments at Franklin rented for $2,067 a month. Compare that with The Smyth,where similar-sized units open at $5,010 monthly.

Before managing Franklin Apartments, Crystal Little worked several jobs in Hartford for the state of Connecticut — education, revenue services and various others. Since starting work in the affordable housing sphere, though, she said she's come to understand the complexities that go into making a development like Franklin happen.

(Video) The crisis in affordable housing

Still, Little said she wishes there were more buildings like the one that she lives and works in.

"Before, I never even thought about living in Stamford," Little said.

Now, Little is able to live downtown in a three-bedroom apartment with her daughter, a student at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. Since she lives close to public transportation and retail, she was able to sell her car.

In Hartford, she said, there were no comparable housing options to what she has now. Beside needing an elevator for tenants with disabilities, she said Franklin Apartments has been a godsend.

"Just living here is wonderful,” Little said.

The benefits of having a good place to call home — particularly for families with children — can be life-changing, Freedman said.

"If you could have a chance to move into a brand new, three-bedroom apartment on Franklin Street right in the heart of Downtown Stamford, access to all kinds of services ... yeah, it would change your life, too," Freedman said.

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What are some causes of lack of affordable housing and how might the issue be addressed? ›

Land use and zoning policies that exclude affordable housing and create racial, economic, and housing segregation; High costs of living, inadequate wages, and wealth and income inequality; A safety net that does not provide sufficient housing or supportive services.

What is the housing problem in New Haven? ›

With a shortage of housing units and skyrocketing prices, New Haveners currently face an affordable housing crisis. With a 1.4 percent rental vacancy rate in the city according to recent census data, New Haveners are struggling to find affordable housing.

How does affordable housing affect people? ›

What problems arise when households struggle to afford housing? Unaffordable housing costs can force families to spend less on other basic necessities like health care or food, to cut costs by seeking lower-quality child care, and to under-invest in important long-term assets like education or retirement savings.

Why is housing becoming unaffordable? ›

The Federal Reserve's monthslong battle with soaring inflation has helped push mortgage rates skyward, thus increasing borrowing costs for buyers. Also, demand for homes soared in 2022 and builders couldn't keep up with the pace, driving prices for existing homes even higher.

What is the housing outlook for CT? ›

The current Connecticut housing market can be classified as a balanced market, meaning that there is a relatively equal number of buyers and sellers. In January 2023, the number of homes sold was down 31.8% year over year, with 2,463 homes sold in January 2023 compared to 3,613 homes sold in January 2022.

What areas to avoid in New Haven CT? ›

New Haven't isn't an overtly dangerous city, but some of the rougher sides can present itself in these neighborhoods. Fair Haven, Newhallville and Hill neighborhoods are locations you should skip at night, while parts of Whalley Avenue heading into these neighborhoods does become a bit sketchy as well.

Why the housing crisis is bad? ›

Home prices are up more than 30% over the past couple of years, making homeownership unaffordable for millions of Americans. Rents are rising sharply too. The biggest culprit is this historic housing shortage. Strong demand and low supply mean higher prices.

What are some of the negative consequences of high housing costs? ›

Effects of High Housing Costs

Postponing or foregoing homeownership. Living in more crowded housing. Commuting further to work each day. Choosing to work and live elsewhere.

How does quality of affordable housing affect health outcomes? ›

Substandard housing such as water leaks, poor ventilation, dirty carpets and pest infestation can lead to an increase in mold, mites and other allergens associated with poor health.

What state has the most unaffordable housing? ›

According to, Hawaii is the most expensive state to live in, with its housing costing three times the national average. New York and California rank as the second and third most expensive states in which to live, respectively.

Which city has the most unaffordable housing? ›

All the cities on this graphic are classified as severely unaffordable⁠—and, for the 12th year in a row, Hong Kong takes the top spot as the world's most unaffordable housing market, with a score of 23.2.

Where is the most unaffordable housing? ›

According to the 2023 International Housing Affordability Survey by Demographia, three out of the 10 least affordable housing markets are in Australia and New Zealand, two are in Canada and four more are located in the United States. The least affordable housing market is Hong Kong.

Will home prices drop in 2023 in Connecticut? › expects that home prices and sales activity will continue to rise in most markets, albeit at a slower pace. Affordability is projected to remain a challenge for some buyers however as potential buyers may have difficulty securing financing.

Why is rent so high in CT? ›

Not Enough New Housing

Singh Lemar argued that a shortage of housing units across the state is in large part responsible for the fact that rents are rising in Connecticut.

Is the housing market going down in CT? ›

What's causing that? A new home under construction in March 2023 on Walnut Ridge Lane in Stamford, Conn. The city led Connecticut for home sales in the first two months of 2023, but sales were off nearly 40 percent from a year earlier amid record low new listings.

What is the safest community in Connecticut? ›

Here are the 10 Safest Cities in Connecticut for 2023
  • Newtown.
  • Cheshire.
  • Wallingford.
  • Greenwich.
  • New Milford.
  • Shelton.
  • Guilford.
  • Westport.
Mar 13, 2023

Is New Haven CT a wealthy area? ›

The per capita income in New Haven in 2018 was $29,348, which is low income relative to Connecticut, and middle income relative to the rest of the US. This equates to an annual income of $117,392 for a family of four. However, New Haven contains both very wealthy and poor people as well.

What cities have the worst housing crisis? ›

The 10 Markets With the Greatest Need for New Housing
RankMarketNew Units Needed/Year
1New York City10,000
2Dallas – Fort Worth19,000
4Los Angeles6,000
6 more rows
Feb 24, 2023

What will happen if the housing market crashes? ›

As prices become unsustainable and interest rates rise, purchasers withdraw. Borrowers are discouraged from taking out loans when interest rates rise. On the other side, house construction will be affected as well; costs will rise, and the market supply of housing will shrink as a result.

Is there really a shortage of housing? ›

As a result, there is a sizable shortage of new homes after more than a decade of under-building relative to population growth, according to a new analysis from released Wednesday. The gap between single-family home constructions and household formations grew to 6.5 million homes between 2012 and 2022.

What caused the housing crisis? ›

The growth of predatory mortgage lending, unregulated markets, a massive amount of consumer debt, the creation of "toxic" assets, the collapse of home prices, and more contributed to the financial crisis of 2008.

What is the main cause of homelessness in California? ›

Poverty. Low wages. Mental illness and the lack of needed services (Single adult individuals) Substance abuse and the lack of needed services (Single adult individuals)

Who made the most from the housing crisis? ›

Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Sometimes referred to as the greatest trade in history, Paulson's firm made a fortune and he earned over $4 billion personally on this trade alone.

When did the housing crisis end? ›

The United States subprime mortgage crisis was a multinational financial crisis that occurred between 2007 and 2010 that contributed to the 2007–2008 global financial crisis. The crisis led to a severe economic recession, with millions of people losing their jobs and many businesses going bankrupt.

What happens when the housing market crashes? ›

Homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes were worth and can no longer just flip their way out of their homes if they cannot make the new, higher payments. Instead, they will lose their homes to foreclosure and often file for bankruptcy in the process.

What U.S. city has the most homeless? ›

Which cities had the largest homeless populations in 2022? Out of the 48 largest cities in the US, Los Angeles and New York had the largest homeless populations. Both identified over 60,000 homeless people in 2022. In 2022, 44 of the 48 cities identified at least 1,000 homeless individuals.

What state has the worst homeless population? ›

The California State Auditor found in their April 2018 report Homelessness in California, that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development noted that "California had about 134,000 homeless individuals, which represented about 24 percent of the total homeless population in the nation” The California State ...

Which state has the most homeless? ›

California has the largest homeless population in the United States with 161,548 individuals experiencing homelessness. There are several reasons why California has such a high rate of homelessness.


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