By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
According to an article in Darien News, owners of 30 units at Clock Hill Condominiums can barely afford to pay their condo and land lease fees, as they struggle to maintain their common property.
Condo owners pay $70 per month to lease land from the City of Darien, and an extra $300 per month in condo association fees for maintenance. Most of the residents are living on Social Security or disability checks.
Clock Hill was sold to buyers as an affordable housing project. But as usual, life at Clock Hill is anything but affordable.
Like many affordable housing communities, Clock Hill homeowners suffer with poorly constructed housing, making it a high-maintenance property.
The condo community was built in 1995, and the builder apparently cut some corners to make the units “affordable” to buy.
For example, none of the units included a furnace for central heating. Instead, the builder installed a propane-fueled water heater as the sole source of heat. In Connecticut’s harsh winter climate, it costs each homeowner a fortune to pay for propane for an inefficient heating system. A few of the owners purchased their own furnaces, but many could not afford to pay thousands of dollars for a central heating system.
During construction, the developer also damaged many trees surrounding the homes, but didn’t remove them. As a result, the condo HOA had to remove many trees in the past 20 years, at a cost of $50,000.
Condo owners face expensive repairs
Additionally, the 24-year-old community now requires several expensive repairs, including new roofs, but the association lacks the money to pay for them. Because all the owners live on very tight budgets, the condo association scrimps and saves wherever it can, and does the bare minimum level of maintenance.
Darien Council said it will consider freezing its $70 monthly land lease fee, but declines outright financial assistance to the “private” organization.
Once again, because they collectively own the property, condo owners are on their own to scrape together the money they need. But the condo board can’t get most owners to agree to increase their assessments.
With only 30 homes to split expenses, rising per-unit assessments can destroy the household budget.
History of controversy at Clock Hill
Clock Hill selects buyers according to a lottery system. To qualify for a condo, household income must not exceed 80% of the Area Median Income. Darien’s residents have relatively high median incomes, exceeding $125,000 annually, but the cost of living in the town is also high.
According to Sperling’s Best Places, the cost of living in Darien is more than three times the national average. Housing, utilities, and transportation expenses are the leading factors that make Darien an expensive place to live. Therefore, even with an annual salary approaching $100,000, household budgets can be strained.
But state law requires all cities — even expensive cities — to supply their share of affordable housing. CT Statute 8-30g requires cities to reach a goal of 10% of housing units set aside as affordable housing.
However, municipalities can apply for a 4-year moratorium — a hold on building more affordable housing — if they can show progress toward the goal with at least 2% of qualifying housing units.
All 30 units at Clock Hill were counted toward the affordable housing goal in Darien’s 2010 application for a moratorium. But critics, including an affordable housing developer, sued the city, claiming that Clock Hill owners earn too much money to qualify their housing as affordable.
The city ultimately prevailed against multiple legal challenges.
Darien applied for a second moratorium in 2016, when the state of Connecticut issued its approval for another 4-year affordable housing moratorium.
The fact that Clock Hill Condo Association is asking for financial relief underscores that the homeowners are indeed struggling to keep up with their limited incomes in one of the most expensive cities in the country.
It’s not surprising that City Councils such as Darien hesitate to build more so-called affordable housing, especially when, in reality, the housing isn’t very affordable after all.
Clock Hill Homes seeks monetary relief from town
By Lynandro Simmons Updated 6:14 pm EST, Saturday, December 22, 2018
TOWN OF DARIEN, BOARD OF SELECTMEN
REGULAR MEETING, DECEMBER 17, 2018
Darien earns second 8-30g affordable housing moratorium
The town was notified Sept. 30
By Susan Shultz on October 5, 2016