1. #1
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    Default Housing sought for volunteers

    Housing sought for volunteers

    Sunday, May 7, 2006

    BY JIM MOORE

    Copyright 2006 Republican-American

    Build them affordable housing.

    A plan is in the works to build 14 high-quality houses on Florence Street, with price tags significantly lower than market prices across Litchfield County. Local volunteer firefighters and EMTs would get first dibs on the homes, which would be worth $225,000 to $250,000 but would sell for between $150,000 and $160,000. Potential homeowners could apply to buy if they earn between 60 percent and 100 percent of what the federal government defines as the area median income for a family of four, or $69,700.

    The general public could apply, but the goal is to attract volunteer emergency workers, "volunteer firemen who can't even afford to live in the town they risk their lives for," said Fred Newman, the authority's executive director.

    The project, dubbed Grand View at Florence, would be unique in Connecticut, Newman said: No other housing authority in the state has proposed low-cost housing for fire and EMT volunteers. The idea is to address statewide worries in small towns where volunteers, particularly essential firefighters and EMTs, are being pushed out by the high cost of living.

    According to the Partnership for Strong Communities, a nonprofit organization on a public education campaign about affordable housing in Connecticut, the median price of a home statewide is $328,000, and $246,000 in Litchfield County. The organization estimates that housing costs in Connecticut have increased by 64 percent since 2000, while wages went up 18 percent during the same period.

    Winsted currently is one of the more affordable towns in Litchfield County, with homes averaging about $162,458, but the Litchfield Hills region overall is seeing real estate prices rise as wealthy weekenders and New York City transplants continue to buy property, pushing up costs. Demand for low-cost housing "has reached a critical point," Newman said, in all of the 14 towns served by the authority.

    For Grand View at Florence, Newman is petitioning the state to give back 3.5 acres of vacant woodland on the west side of Florence Street between Holabird Avenue and Royer Street. Donation of the state-owned land would make the price break on the homes possible, and deed restrictions would prevent buyers from immediately cashing in on the potential profit.

    A survey is being prepared for distribution to members of the Winsted Ambulance Association and the local volunteer fire departments to assess how much interest there would be in the new homes. The three-bedroom homes would have walkout basements, two bathrooms and a stylish design on a quarter-acre lot, Newman said. "These will not be cookie-cutter houses," Newman said.

    The development's name comes from the location's sweeping view overlooking Winsted.

    "It sounds like a really good idea," Winsted Fire Chief Robert J. Shopey Jr. said. "We may very well have people who are interested."

    Shopey said he has not specifically heard any of the department's 85 members express concerns about housing costs, but he noted they haven't been asked, either.

    Grand View at Florence is the second major project undertaken under the Winchester Housing Authority Development Corporation's 2005-2009 strategic plan. Laurel Commons, an elderly housing development with 44 residences in the center of town, was first. Others will follow, Newman said.

    The Florence Street lots conform to local zoning regulations, Newman said, and there are water and sewer pipes already in place.

    Newman said the project would continue a mission that began just a few yards downhill with Ramsay Heights, where homes built by the housing authority starting in 1956, after the Flood of 1955 that devested much of Winsted, still stand today, most of them neat and trim.

    http://www.rep-am.com/story.php?id=6544
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

    FF/EMT/DBP

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    This is a pretty interesting idea, though I think it would be complicated to administer. What happens if a firefighter quits the department after buying the home? Do they have to move? What happens when all the homes are purchased? If a firefighter chooses to sell his home, are there limitations to who they can sell it to? Who inforces it?

    I'm a fan of volunteer incentives. I think a Property-tax credit would be a better program and wouldn't be as complicated. It would also be ongoing. Every year you're a Firefighter you get a tax break rather then a one-time thing.

    One interesting thing I found out at the Hall of Flame was that the original exempt associations were to give incentives for joining volunteer FD's back in the day. They were "excempt" from certain taxes or fees because they were members of the fire company. Shows that the incentive-thing goes beyond the modern-day manpower issues.

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