Poverty has risen in Connecticut faster than it has in the nation as a whole, and although people live in poverty for a number of reasons, the sometimes double-digit rise of home prices in Connecticut may have something to do with why people stay in poverty, according to some affordable housing experts.

The two-year average of people in poverty in Connecticut rose 11 percent from 2002-2003 to 2003-2004, statistics show. Using the two-year average is a more accurate way to measure the statistics, according to the U.S. Census. Nationally, the percentage of people living in poverty rose 2 percent from 2002-2003 to 2003-2004.

The overall percentage of people living in poverty in Connecticut remains lower than the national percentage, however, and is much lower than the poverty rates in many other states. In 2003-2004, 9.1 percent of people in Connecticut were living in poverty, and 12.6 nationally were living in poverty. The census considers the poverty line to be $15,067 for a family of three.

Problem ‘Compounded’

Although Connecticut is routinely lauded as one of the richest states in the nation and often shows the highest per capita income in the country, there are two sides to the small state, according to David Fink, policy and communications director for the Partnership for Strong Communities, a Hartford-based nonprofit group.

“Connecticut has long been described as two Connecticuts,” he said.

Despite the high per capita income, it is also home to three of the 20 poorest cities with populations of more than 100,000 in the country. And high home prices in much of the state play a factor in why those communities stay that way. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven are some of the only places where people living near or below the poverty line can reliably afford housing, and Fink said the situation has become even worse over the past five years as low interest rates have driven up demand and, therefore, prices.

“You have the pockets of poverty because there is relatively nothing they can afford Â… in other communities,” Fink said.

The reasons for that often are debated and well known by people in the real estate and development industries. Construction in the state lags far behind others because of the high prices put on what little developable land is left. Connecticut was 47th in 2004 in terms of housing units constructed per capita, according to Fink. And because land is so expensive, developers have to build huge, pricey homes to recoup the expenses.

The second problem, he noted, is that many municipalities in the state have very restrictive zoning and are not apt to allow developments like apartment complexes because they fear too many strains – such as new schoolchildren – on their resources.

“Municipalities continue to fear a lot of new housing,” Fink said.

Fink is not sure the fear is justified; typical rental units that do not have a lot of bedrooms won’t necessarily add a lot of students to local schools, he said. But the lack of affordable housing – especially of rental housing – continues to be a problem.

“The problem has been compounded in the last few years,” Fink said. “[Housing has] become out of reach for a lot of middle-income workers, too.”

About 310,000 people in Connecticut lived in poverty last year, according to the Associated Press. Poverty rates in other New England states – including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont – declined from 2002-2003 to 2003-2004, while Rhode Island’s rose slightly.

The last time the poverty rate declined across the country was in 2000, when 31.1 million, or 11.3 percent, of the population lived under the poverty line, according to the AP. Since then, the poverty rate has increased steadily.

Other troubling statistics show that 11.6 percent of Connecticut residents and 8.5 percent of its children under 18 were uninsured last year.

“In the nation’s wealthiest state, parents who are working full-time should have sufficient funds for decent housing, a good education, quality child care, and health care for their children,” Doug Hall, associate director of research for Connecticut Voices For Children, a private, nonprofit research and advocacy group in New Haven, told the AP. “Yet the thousands of Connecticut families holding jobs that pay poverty wages or that don’t offer health insurance benefits find that – no matter how hard they work – there’s not enough income to make ends meet.”