The newfound popularity of luxury apartment facilities such as the Hartford 21 development in Hartford (above) has some concerned about the lack of affordable rental housing in the city. A recent study has revealed that such housing is needed throughout the state.

A recent study released by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies illustrates the critical importance of rental housing in America. Entitled “America’s Rental Housing: Homes for a Diverse Nation,” the study reported that 200,000 apartments are demolished every year nationwide.

And a closer look at numbers for the Constitution State reveals some other disturbing trends.

Last year, Connecticut was 47th in the nation when it came to the number of housing units constructed per capita, according to David Fink, policy director of the Partnership for Strong Communities in Hartford. Particularly in Hartford, the new developments often are not meeting the public’s need for affordable rental housing.

“Now most of what is being built are five-plus-bedroom homes and 55-plus developments. And the reason is that people perceive those developments as winners when it comes to property taxes because there are no children to educate,” said Fink.

With the newfound popularity of luxury apartments in Hartford, such as the new Hartford 21 development, many of the city’s low- to middle-income residents and affordable housing advocates are concerned that Hartford’s necessary rental housing pool will be further strained.

“In Hartford, a balance needs to be struck between workforce housing for people earning money – police, firemen, nurses and teachers – who aren’t at the top of the income bracket, as well as higher-end housing,” said Mary McAtee, executive director from the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness in Wethersfield. “The challenge is balancing the two. But I do think that there’s a growing awareness of the importance of the issue across the state.”

Connecticut has lost more than 20 percent of its 20- to 34-year-old population since 1990, according to Fink. “It seems to be a ‘chicken or egg’ thing. People say they’re not staying because there are no jobs; others say there are no jobs because there isn’t sufficient housing [for that demographic],” he said. “The two things we need most in Connecticut are rental housing and starter homes.”

“We need to do something in Connecticut because what was once a moral imperative is now an economic survival issue,” Fink added. “We can’t keep losing the number of people that we have been and still keep businesses here.”

The need for affordable housing has become a broader issue, affecting all different sectors of the community. “People are understanding that we need healthy housing markets in order to have vibrant cities. When the housing market doesn’t meet the needs of middle-income workers, we need to reevaluate our [priorities],” noted McAtee.

“Affordable rental housing is one of the key components and the solution to [fighting homelessness],” McAtee added. “For families who do not choose to or are unable to purchase their own home, renting is the alternative. Assuring that people can maintain renting is key to ending homelessness.”

‘Dramatically Changed’

Last year, under the leadership of Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, the state created a $100 million housing trust fund. In the late 1980s, over $1 million a year was being made available in capital funds to support affordable housing in Connecticut, according to Jeffrey Freiser, executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition.

“There was once a substantial commitment to funding affordable housing in Connecticut,” he said. “But those funds had been allowed to wither until last year when Connecticut created a $100 million housing trust fund. The trust fund’s guidelines require that at least one-third of the support be for rental housing.

“I feel we have a dramatically changed direction in seeing the state commit to supporting affordable housing,” he added.

The Connecticut Housing Coalition and similar affordable housing advocacy groups are active in their efforts to increase the quantity and quality of affordable housing in the state. “Incentive is one leg of a four-legged stool,” said Freiser. “The second leg is funding for all things you need to make housing affordable, from down payment assistance to rental assistance to rehabilitation and preservation money. Number three is that you have to streamline the delivery system in getting funding out the door by removing all of the impediments. The fourth and final thing is capacity – developing a planning capacity at the state level and with developers.”

Undergoing a great cultural and social transformation, the city of Hartford is focused on finding a balance between working-class and higher-end housing.

“Hartford has been going through a bit of a renaissance,” said John Palmieri, the director of the city’s department of development services. “There are a number of new housing initiatives in the downtown, like the Dutch Point housing project and the Capewell project [involving the conversion of the historic Capewell Horse Nail Factory into condominiums]. We’re trying to maintain an equilibrium in making higher end options available while still attracting the middle class.

“Mayor [Eddie] Perez understands and appreciates how important it is to provide housing for all people,” Palmieri added. “He wants to create a bit more of a balance to occupancy opportunities.”