Affordable Housing Group Backs Idea to Add Housing at Milford Mall

September 21, 2023 - by Nick Sambides, Staff Writer, Hearst Connecticut Media - Affordable housing advocates are backing an idea from Centennial Real Estate to add housing to the Connecticut Post Mall.

All In For Milford members said the mall's Boston Post Road site is a "perfect" place to put a mix of affordable apartments, which is expected to be part of the Texas-based real estate agency's latest proposal to revitalize the mall. The plan has not been officially released yet, as the Planning and Zoning Board delayed the hearing on it at the latest meeting.

"It's the perfect opportunity to create more housing without open space in an area (being diminished)," said Joseph Alling, one of the All In For Milford members.

Centennial's proposed zoning change, which would only apply to the mall because the mall is in its own zone, falls in line with other city regulations, said Alling, who is running for the planning board as a Democratic representative from the Fourth District. A 10 percent affordable-housing requirement was added to the zone along Bridgeport Avenue, he said.

If Centennial's new plan contains the previous proposal's 300 apartments, the 30 affordably-priced units certainly won't solve Milford's problems, All In members said, but it will be something.

Centennial and All In might seem an unlikely pairing, with the latter's support of the former like David giving Goliath a bear hug.

All In is a group of a dozen or so volunteers — plus 500 Facebook followers — who want more affordable housing in Milford.

The group want to address what it sees as a "crisis" in Milford, and help the city's housing market gain at least 1,000 more units with rents from $605 to $1,000 per month to answer Milford's affordable-housing needs, said Rachel Mervam one of the members.

Meanwhile, Centennial is Milford's biggest tax payer. It paid nearly $3.4 million in taxes this year — about three times the city's second-largest taxpayer — and topped the top 10 list two years prior by paying $3.86 million in 2022 and $3.87 million in 2021.

But Centennial had pledged in its 2021 attempt to add mixed housing and commercial buildings to the mall to have 5 percent of it meet the state's definition of affordable housing. Those units could then count toward the city's overall affordable housing percentage under state statute 8-30g. The most recent regulation change the board is considering will up that commitment to 10 percent.

That sounds great to Alling.

"We need to confront the fact that 48 percent of renters and 26 percent of homeowners in Milford are cost burdened by housing, meaning that housing consumes more than 30 percent of their household income," Alling said in a statement he planned to read at the meeting. "Allowing multi-family housing at the mall and in other commercial districts will help make Milford a more affordable place to live by providing more home options for residents."

Advocates say Milford is losing its ability to house its own workers.

Milford's median income has increased over the last decade or so to about $91,000. That's perhaps good news for the tax base, but workers in nine of the city's 10 highest employment sectors have adjusted earnings below that, according to the city's 2022 Affordable Housing Plan. Similarly, the city's median sales price for homes skyrocketed from $209,000 in 2015 to $380,000 in 2021.

Just as bad to Eke and Merva is that the economic shift has forced many of Milford's longtime families to move out of town. They said they each know a handful of people who have been forced to flee or worse, they hang onto their homes because Milford doesn't have smaller dwellings, such as apartments, to downsize into.

"I have been living in Milford for 25 years and it is tough to see people my kids grew up with and my friends move out because it is hard to make a go of it in Milford," Merva said.

The board continued the hearing on Centennial's proposed regulation change allowing housing at the mall at the company's request, City Planner David Sulkis said.

Six of the nine board members attended the meeting, which would have been enough for a vote. John Knuff, the Milford attorney representing Centennial, said the company wanted the full board to weigh its proposal to guarantee what Sulkis called "its greatest chance of success."

The board's next meeting is Oct. 3.

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