With Influx of Sub-related Workers, the First Task: What kind of housing is needed and how much?
By: Julia Bergman
January 29, 2019
Groton — With current population forecasts, southeastern Connecticut now has 6,000 more housing units than will eventually be necessary. And that doesn't account for the nearly 5,000 units that have been approved, are proposed or are under construction within the region.
"Of course, Electric Boat could very well change that," said Tina Lund, a principal with consulting firm Urbanomics.
Urbanomics is part of a team of consultants, led by BFJ Planning, who have just begun a study to identify future demand for housing and transportation in the region as a result of a ramp-up in submarine production. They introduced the study to the public Tuesday night during a meeting at the Groton Public Library.
The Pentagon's Office of Economic Analysis gave a $330,423 grant to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments for two studies: one to examine housing needs in the region, and the other to look at land use around the Naval Submarine Base to ensure development by surrounding communities doesn't impede base operations and vice versa. The council of governments is contributing about $36,000 in staff time. Of the funds, $246,000 are going toward the housing study.
The idea behind the housing study is to prepare municipalities for what's coming, so that when developers come to them with ideas or plans, officials know what's needed.
Using Census data and population forecasts from the council of governments, Lund predicted there will be about 300,000 people living in the region in 2040 compared to the roughly 269,000 living here today. The 300,000 estimate excludes the number of new EB hires and additional Navy sailors expected to come to the region.
EB's workforce, now at 17,050 employees, is expected to grow to more than 20,000 by the mid-2020s. But in reality, that will involve hiring much more than 3,000 people, as thousands will retire or leave the company for other reasons. Fifty-one percent of the workforce is between the ages of 22 and 37, compared to 30 percent just five years ago. Last year, 275 babies were born to EB employees, an indication of changing demographics at the company that may impact the kind of housing and quality of life workers are looking for.
Roughly 500 additional sailors, and in some cases their family members, also will be relocating to the area while construction of ballistic-missile submarines is taking place at EB. The ballistic-missile submarines carry 15 more sailors — 150 rather than 135 — than the attack submarines also being built at EB. Each ballistic-missile sub has two crews, whereas attack submarines have only one.
The study will help ensure the right kind of housing is in place — from single family to apartments — and in adequate supply. It also will look at the impacts of EB expansion on transportation with the goal of increasing alternative modes of transit, and assess the local economic and market conditions to include proposed zoning revisions.
The population in the region is aging, and that will affect both the labor force and the housing market, Lund said. In some parts of the region, between 15 and 28 percent of households are headed by people 75 or older, meaning there's a lot of potential for turnover in the housing market, she said.
The overall vacancy rate in the region — which includes empty homes and those up for sale or rent — is about 9 percent, Lund said. There are a lot of vacancies in particular in Norwich and the eastern edge of Montville. That's also where housing values are the lowest in the region.
The average single-family home in the region sold for about $244,000 in 2018, according to a third-quarter market report from Berkshire Hathaway. Lund said the consultants plan to meet with real estate agents in the region to get their take on the market.
Like most regions, southeastern Connecticut lacks affordable housing. The U.S. government considers housing affordable when individuals spend 30 percent of their income or less on it. In 2017, almost a third of homeowners in the region spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing. As for renters, 50 percent spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
The consultants are in the process of gathering information from EB about its workforce, such as where people live, age, job type, income and marital status. They also plan to hold focus groups with existing workers, both engineers and tradespeople, to get their assessment of what the region offers and doesn't offer.
Tighe & Bond will be looking at the impact on traffic in the region, including hot spots, and identifying safety concerns. ASG Planning is focused on mass transit, and will look at partnerships between the private and public sides of transportation to ensure the whole network works better together. About 80 percent of the workers in the region drive alone to work every day, said Anne Galbraith, a principal at ASG Planning.
Public comment focused on the need to look at transit-oriented housing and ensuring current and new people coming to live and work in the region are asked about what kind of quality of life they are looking for. Several also worried about how long the ramp-up in submarine construction would last, remembering the large number of EB employees who lost their jobs in the 1990s after the Pentagon canceled the Seawolf submarine program.
Another public hearing is anticipated in late May or early June. The study is expected to be finished by September.
For more information, visit bit.ly/SBNLjlus.