What next in Norwich's affordable housing discussion? Discussion!


Submitted 3 months ago
Created by
Mark Travis

With a special town meeting set for November to reinstate a Norwich affordable housing fund, I reached out to Jeff Lubell, one member of the committee pursuing the issue, with a few follow-up questions. 

The fund was originally established some years back but expired in 2017. It's got $45,671 in it, but it's unavailable without a town vote to reestablish the fund. Lubell said no money was ever spent out of the fund, and that its expiration was an oversight.

I asked why he thought it important to seek a town vote reestablishing the fund sooner, in a special town meeting, rather than later, at the regular town meeting next March.

"I can’t speak for the committee as a whole," he said. "For myself, I think there are two things. I think it’s important to send a signal that the town of Norwich cares about affordable housing, and that we have some money available to help." Secondly, he said, "something could happen between now and March, and it would be nice to have the money available again" if it does.

I also asked how he envisioned fostering discussion of the topic between now and the meeting, which is on Nov. 8, and Lubell said that's primarily a matter of continuing a series of "affordable housing listening sessions" on the topic.

The next, on Sept. 17, will address what strikes me as the heart of the issue in Norwich, given its sky-high property values: "What are the barriers to the private sector developing affordable housing, and how can we overcome those barriers?" as Lubell put it. (That meeting will be held at Tracy Hall starting at 7 p.m.)

On the agenda for a subsequent session: The issues around what are called "granny flats" -- fostering the creation of second units with their own entrance on existing homes. They're technically called accessory dwelling units, Lubell said. Potential examples might be a homeowner who wants to accommodate an aging parent, or an income source for a homeowner struggling to pay property taxes.

Affordable housing is a gnarly issue in many communities, and it's been gnarly in Norwich too. Lubell said that, despite what he called "noise" around the issue on the listserv, he remains convinced that the town as a whole would support reasonable steps to create more affordable housing options in Norwich.

We'll see! What do you think?

(Lubell serves on the Affordable Housing Sub-Committee of the Norwich Planning Commission. You can read an account of the selectboard vote to call the special meeting in the Valley News.)

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