looking at the increasing demand for apartments
New Ridgefield apartments rent as quickly as they are built. “The need is insatiable,” says developer Steve Zemo, who owns two properties on Governor Street and 111 apartments in in total in Ridgefield. “There are three-year waitlists at Ballard Green and Prospect Ridge Congregate Housing.”
While the Housing Authority indicates that that wait time might be exaggerated, clearly Zemo is onto something. Half the 20 apartments in his Governors House property were snapped up by January, six months before its July 2015 completion date. The rest will go by lottery.
“The rental market is hopping,” echoes realtor Tracey Baines. “There are so many different options that people don’t know about.” Baines cites buildings near the West Lane Inn, the new apartments at 595 Main Street, and Stone House Commons on Route 7 as some of the less well-known options. Not to mention the apartments in the Bissell Building. Even the Days Inn has efficiency apartments. “I managed to get my daughter one of the Urstadt Biddle’s five well-priced apartment above the bookstore,” says Baines. “It comes with heating, hot water, and a precious parking permit.”
Of course, Baines also sees many clients looking for condominium rentals in Casagmo, Fox Hill, or Quail Ridge, which is “really nice and great for families.” Baines, who lives in an apartment herself, speculates the booming rental market comes from recent economic uncertainty. “People either find themselves in a position where they can’t afford to buy or are afraid to put money into real estate.”
That is certainly the case for Zemo’s typical Governor Street renter. Most are women living independently, who either were in Ridgefield and have downsized or were lured here by children. He says most have made a decision to rent so that their assets are more liquid.
Zemo’s Governor Street apartments are designed with seniors in mind. They are one-level apartments with two bedrooms. One of the two bathrooms has a walk-in shower with safety bars.
“They find a community in the apartment building, have fun, and look out for each other,” says Zemo. The common room on the lower level is ample enough for a large holiday party and can be borrowed for a bigger family reunion. It also features a roof deck for gatherings. “And they call our office if they need a light bulb changed. That’s what we’re here for.”
They change light bulbs? That’s a service that many of Baines’s single, divorced, or widowed clients would jump on. She recently rented a Casagmo condominium to a woman who works in town and found the Ridgefield condo complex more affordable than New Canaan.
Ridgefield’s Tax Assessor Al Garzi explains how Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Act (Statute 8-30g) relaxed density restrictions for the past five years so builders like Zemo could put more units on one parcel of land. The assessor’s office estimates that there are 450 apartments for rent in all of Ridgefield.
While all the apartments in Governors House feature the same amenities, they are not all rented at the same price because of the Affordable Housing Act. People qualify for affordable housing based on their income. Zemo says that some of his tenants have sold their houses so have some savings but not much income. Others have generous pensions and Social Security. Prices on the two-bedroom apartments range from $1,500 to $3,000 a month. They aren’t for sale.
Garzi also points to accessory apartment regulation put in place a decade ago that allows homeowners to rent out apartments in their homes. “This fills a niche,” says Garzi, “which helps people carry their house and provides much needed housing.” He believes most of these apartments rent for $2,000 to $2,500. He also says that there are a many illegal rentals, which he says can be dangerous if not up to fire code.
Tension between preserving the small town, rural nature of Ridgefield and addressing the real life housing needs of its residents, especially seniors and middle-
income families, spills over the pages of the Press, affect the discussion on the future of the Schlumberger site, and have led to the resignation of most of the affordable housing commission.
Living alone in older, two-story homes with significant upkeep and no one to call when the basement floods or a storm hits, let alone a light bulb goes out, might not be desirable, affordable, or possible for many Ridgefield residents.
As has been widely reported, the state granted Ridgefield a four-year moratorium on the Affordable Housing Act, so demand for apartments will likely rise in that time. “Four years goes very quickly,” warns Zemo.