A Danbury resident says modular homes could provide an answer.

The Legislature and Governor are well aware that there is a need for affordable multifamily housing in Connecticut. During this year’s legislative session, the enormous hours spent debating this thorny issue unfortunately did not yield any significant solutions other than some insufficient funds allocated for new construction.

There is too much reliance on long-standing state law 8-30g to find effective ways to solve the problem one way or another. This law is a cudgel to force municipalities to allow affordable multifamily housing. Cities hate it. Builders/developers don’t like it either, because the 30% of units that have to be tied up with deeds to ensure reasonable rates or rent is at best a break-even or most likely a loss for them. However, if using 8-30 grams is the only way they can get a building permit due to the city’s land use restrictions, they will use it to its fullest extent.

Most affordable housing is built in cities, but if those cities have already built 10 percent of their requirements and are therefore exempt from the law, they may be reluctant to allow any additional units. Existing residents across the state are also critics of the law because they have little control over the approval process. They cannot influence the addition of multifamily units. Their “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude takes over.

Is there an effective and innovative approach to help solve the problem of insufficient affordable housing? How about reducing the cost of construction so that the savings can be passed on to the buyer or renter? There are two companies I know that are starting to make big strides toward the goal of affordable housing. Although they both use standard construction techniques, their approach is quite different, although it seems effective in both cases. Let’s take a look at each of them:

Modular design and construction, in Bethel. This new company formed by the Scalzo Group uses a design concept called Smart Scale Modular. It’s a step forward from the tiny homes that captured the public’s imagination in the late 1970s and gained momentum in the 1980s. Tiny homes are defined as “a dwelling of 400 square feet or less, excluding lofts.” In comparison, a tiny home can be defined to include any home up to about 1,000 square feet, which is similar to a good-sized apartment or apartment. The difference is that a tiny home is essentially a single family, with no shared walls with neighbors. Even if built on a smaller lot, the residence is yours and is more private than a multifamily dwelling. Moreover, the interiors appear larger than their actual size due to the open and clean design of the units.

This type of housing seems ideal for young millennials on limited budgets and seniors who are downsizing. It is affordable to build. The house can be free-standing on your own site, or the builder can build a group of houses, allowing for some variation in design to avoid monotony. The units will be sold or rented by the developer.

In addition to the obvious savings in building materials and the efficiency of standard construction techniques, smart scale homes are energy efficient. With their compact size, these homes have much less space for heating and cooling, which naturally results in significant energy savings. It is designed with the latest insulation, energy-efficient appliances and advanced windows to reduce heat loss and improve solar energy gain. On average, adopting a home lifestyle with a smart meter can save up to 50 percent or more on energy bills compared to traditional homes.

To learn more about Design Build Modular, go to www.smartscalemodular.com.

Ship Technologies, in New York City. While Vessel and Design Build Modular use modular construction techniques, Vessel is very different in building volume in promoting affordable housing. Their goal is to provide working-class residents with quality housing using a prefabricated building model that reduces the cost and time typically required in traditional construction. Their buildings are large multi-storey residential buildings for rent at prices below the market average. The design can be called a Scandinavian look with a clean white facade with the option of some wood trim and efficient use of interior space.

The ship approaches a city with the aim of marketing its product as an affordable and cost saving product without having to call 8-30G for approvals. However, if they face pushback from the city, they often have to resort to using state law to enforce the issue.

More information is available at www.vesseltechnologies.com.

Although both approaches have merit in lowering the cost of living in Connecticut, they will face the same resistance as any multifamily development, unless they can obtain similar state protections available by using 8-30g. Since the goal of these companies is to provide affordable housing to all of their users, why not try to avoid and eliminate the burdensome 30 percent cap requirement? It is true that there must be a reliable measure to ensure that prices for this type of affordable housing do not rise faster than traditional housing. I am sure that as these new concepts begin to spread and are supported by the state, the combined brainpower that lawmakers can apply can formulate a fair measure of relative affordability pricing.

It should be noted that the Smart Scale Modular, unlike the larger shipbuilding model, does not require drainage and can rely on a septic system. This poses a problem in the case of city resistance, as a reserve use of 8-30g may not be effective. By law, the town can only deny an application for health or safety reasons, and lack of sanitation is one of the only effective arguments that can be used. But this obstacle can be addressed through legislative action.

Because the need is so urgent and the wheels of government are deliberately turning, a groundswell of support from across the private sector and nonprofit advocacy groups would help move the process more quickly toward discussion and subsequent implementation.

Hal Corvis, of Danbury, is executive vice president of Scalzo Commercial & New Development and a member of the board of directors of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *