NORWALK, Conn. — While many developers talk about building affordable housing, one company said it’s identified a market gap that its properties are looking to fill – housing for people who might not qualify for “affordable or deed-restricted housing” but who might not be able to afford market rate prices.
Workforce Partners, which owns and operates multiple properties in and around South Norwalk, near Norwalk Hospital, the Wall Street area, and in Wilton, said it aims to “provide workforce housing for the residents of the city of Norwalk,” according to Kevney Moses, an acquisition analyst and project manager with the group.
“Workforce Partners is an owner-operator of workforce housing units that provide affordable units to citizens who earn 60 to 100 percent of the average area median income,” said Attorney Elizabeth Suchy, of Carmody, Torrance, Sandak & Hennessey LLP, who was representing the company in front of the Norwalk Zoning Commission in July and August. “Workforce buys, rejuvenates, modernizes, and makes efficient Class B or C housing and then offers them at affordable rates. It creates communities that are healthy, safe, environmentally friendly, discounted rents to various everyday heroes, including teachers, firefighters, police, EMTs, municipal employees and others.”
Workforce Partners has appeared before the Zoning Commission the last two months for upgrades to one of its newest properties – 204 Flax Hill Road.
The property itself includes multiple buildings – the former Ferris Mansion at the front of the property, which has six units in it; a longer building that has about eight units in it; the carriage house with about four units; and a larger building in the back with 18 units, according to Suchy. In total, the property currently holds 36 units, all in the “affordable range for the average area median income,” she said, with rents about $1,500 a month. Four of the units will be deed-restricted affordable, she said, with the others targeted at those who make 60 to 100 percent of the average area income.
Workforce Partners plans to “take the existing Ferris building at the front of the property that has six units, and rehabilitate and restore that historic structure to close what it looked like when it was constructed in the late 1800s,” and remove the carriage house and its four units, and replace it with a 14-unit structure, increasing the total units on site from 36 to 46, Suchy said.
The company operates its properties under the brand “IVE Living,” or Innovative Living.
“We built our portfolio from $15k of equity in a single family house to ~$50MM of asset value across 11 properties,” Workforce Partners states on its website.
According to Moses and Suchy, the company buys properties, “gives them a lift,” and then markets them to working-class groups, such as nurses, teachers, and municipal workers.
“As we’ve done with other properties in Norwalk, we do … what we call revival of the properties to kind of give them a lift in terms of, you know, doing some upgrades to the units themselves and the upgrades to the exteriors of the property,” Moses said. “Our standard is to provide a better-quality housing for people who are, you know, of average means. We offer discounts as standard for people who we think should be able to live and work in Norwalk like teachers, like nurses, like municipal workers. And so our goal is really to be able to provide that quality housing.”
Moses said across their portfolio, which includes studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms their average property rent is around $1,500-$1,560.
Their portfolio includes properties at: 30 West Ave., 50 Connecticut Ave., 138 Flax Hill Road, 35 Clay St., 104 and 143½ South Main St., 8 Union Ave., 21 Clinton Ave., 14 Bedford Ave., 29 Ferris Ave., and 3 Hubbard Road in Wilton.
“They’ll be that intermediate product that serves that market that isn’t met by either [deed-restricted or workforce housing] and they will still be affordable at a certain percentage of the Norwalk medium area median income,” Suchy said.
Zoning Commission members emphasized that they wanted to see rents kept about the same if possible so that the company wasn’t replacing “affordable housing, with less affordable housing,” according to Commissioner Galen Wells.
“We are concerned about living conditions as well as people being able to survive and live in South Norwalk,” Commissioner Nate Sumpter said, “And that’s kind of where we’re coming from. At the same time, we’d love to see new units and nice units. The question is really about…some folks being able to still stay in that area, because what we’re finding is that oftentimes, when units are renovated, then those people that are there can’t come back in the same area.”
Andy Ayala, the president of eastern acquisitions for Workforce Partners, told the Commission that rents would “depend on where our final construction project ends.”
“But as of today, where our budget is, the plan is to be able to keep the rents very similar to where they are today at that site and within our portfolio mix changes,” he said.
The Commission held a public hearing in August, and members of the condominium complex at 208 Flax Hill said that they liked the design changes to site, but wanted to make sure that the owners respected their shared driveway and took that into consideration, as the application moved forward.