Report: Most state communities are off-limits to middle-income families

Families earning the state’s median income can’t afford a median-priced home in two-thirds of Connecticut’s cities and towns, according to a report released today by the Partnership for Strong Communities.

Although the number of communities deemed “unaffordable”–112 of 169–remained the same from 2009 to 2010, that fact conceals a negative trend: While median home sales prices rebounded by 4 percent in the period, median household income dropped by 3.5 percent, to $65,686.

housing income

About 112 of Connecticut’s cities and towns, or roughly 66 percent, prove unaffordable based on a state median income of $65,686, according to a report released by the Partnership for Strong Communities.

The report attributed the drop in affordability to a 3.5 percent decrease in the state median income, from $68,055 in 2009 to $65,686 in 2010. The report also said 112 towns proved unaffordable in 2009.

The gap between the state median income and the income needed to qualify for a mortage on a median-priced home in 2010 was $10,000 or more in 81 cities or towns, according to the report. The gap in 13 towns proved more than $100,000.

David Fink, the policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities, said the results of the report do not bode well for young professionals looking to live and work in Connecticut.

“It means that if you’re a young professional… your only choice is often to leave Connecticut,” he said. “If Connecticut wants to hold onto workers, young families and young professionals, we need a variety of more affordable housing.”

The report also found that based on local median incomes, residents of 96 state communities can’t afford to buy a home where they live. That figure–up from 86 in 2009–includes communities ranging from impoverished inner cities like Hartford and Bridgeport to affluent suburbs in Litchfield and Fairfield counties.

“I can’t see that it’s gotten enormously worse, but it’s still gotten worse,” Fink said.

The Partnership, a housing advocacy group, used a conservative formula for calculating how large a mortgage a household would be able to obtain. Among other things, it assumes the household has saved enough for a 10 percent down payment and has no other debts, such as car loans, student loans or credit card balances.

“A family earning the median household income with no debt, that has a 10% down payment saved… is a rare commodity,” the report says.

Fink said the decrease in affordability carries repercussions for not only the individual, but for the greater economy.

“If you spend more than the recommended 25 percent of your income on housing, it’s bad for the individual because they don’t have much left over for the things they need or want,” he said. “It’s also bad for the state economy because less people are engaging in business.”

He said that any improvement in the economy will lead to a greater demand for housing, causing the cost of homes to increase.

“We’ll need to combat the high demand and high prices with more supply on the lower end of housing by building more apartments, condos, townhomes and three-bedroom starter homes that we haven’t built much of,” he said. “The supply needs to be higher, but it needs to be a different kind of supply than we’ve had.”

The report said the five most affordable towns in Connecticut are Plainfield, Bridgeport, New Britain, Hartford and Waterbury. Many of the most affordable towns are in Tolland and Windham counties. Twenty of the least affordable towns fall in Fairfield or Litchfield counties. The top five least affordable include Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Westport and Weston.

Fink said that even affordable towns, like Hartford, pose a problem for people looking for property to rent. The state housing wage, or the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Connecticut, proves the seventh highest in the nation at $23.37.