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New Home Construction Was Strong In Connecticut. Then COVID Came.

Paul Brennan from Pixabay

2019 was the best year Connecticut had in nearly a decade for building up its housing stock, but it could be the last for a while. 

Data released this month from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development shows 2019 had the largest buildup of new housing the state has seen in eight years. 

Huge growth last year: 22% over the year before, with nearly 6,000 new housing units.

Some were single family homes, duplexes and larger houses. Most were multifamily homes like apartment complexes and luxury condos. And many are in cities, including Stamford, New Haven and Norwalk.

“I think this is a trend,” said Kolie Sun, senior research analyst with the state. “I think because we have a lot more of transit-oriented development along Metro-North, and then Connecticut’s shore. And then people are changing the idea they want to look at more in, closer to the transit so you don't have to drive. So that's why it becomes more popular and then increase the higher demand.”

Take Stamford. Robert Roqueta, who serves on the city Board of Representatives, said high-rise buildings have sprung up in the south end by the water.

“Being able to be in New York City's backyard, if you will, to get you know, onto the Metro-North and be in Grand Central 40 minutes later really attracts a lot of post-college graduates. [They] can come back to Stamford, where it's a little bit slower pace of living, but it's not the woods,” Roqueta said. “And it has a lot going on and has a vibrant nightlife.”

2012 holds the recent record for growth in potential housing stock. But it’s much lower than before the economic recession of 2008, according to Sun’s research.

She said that means 2019’s growth was a result of pent-up demand.

“And then the pandemic hit, and so we're kind of pushed back again,” said Chris Nelson, president of Connecticut Home Builders and Remodeling Association, a trade group that lobbies for residential developers.

“We've actually seen some new housing contracts too,” Nelson said. “Not as many, as we did lose some interest. Everybody just took a step back and put a hold on things. Not everybody but about half of the contracts just said, you know what, let's wait until the fall or whenever this clears.”

Nelson is a builder, too. He’s been able to work through the pandemic because residential construction is considered an essential business in Connecticut.

“We did slow it down intentionally, just so we could have less people working close to each other,” he said. “So the trades have their own independent times. And really cut the hours of my employees back so that we wouldn't have as many people in the same place and try to keep people safe.”

It also means developers have to take on some extra costs for personal protective equipment and wash stations.

“If you try to get a hand sanitizer station, you'd be amazed that it's gonna cost you a couple hundred dollars a month just to put this little box with some fluid in and on the site.”

But developers said the protections they care about the most are for businesses in Connecticut. The economy needs to be supported.

“We are at the mercy of the business climate,” Nelson said.

Eric Gjede, vice president of government affairs at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said there needs to be a huge focus on the state’s economy in this pandemic response.

“We are going to have significant deficits,” Gjede said. “And how lawmakers choose to deal with that is going to be very important. Are we going to continue to just tax and spend and spend and tax our way out of it? Because that certainly did not work for the last recession.”

Because without a mix of protections and incentives, Gjede said Connecticut’s short-lived residential construction boom will turn to bust in 2020.

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here.

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