NORWALK, Conn. -- Are you looking to buy your first home in Norwalk or anywhere else in Fairfield County? Or selling your house for a larger one to accommodate an expanding family?
You can pretty much forget it if your household earns the state median income of $65,686 or less.
The five least affordable towns in Connecticut for homebuyers are all in Fairfield Countywith Greenwich leading the way, followed by New Canaan, Darien, Westport and Weston. Norwalk is among the 20 least affordable.
Most of those 20 communities are also in Fairfield County, according to a new report by the Partnership for Strong Communities, a Hartford-based state housing advocacy group.
The report adds that the median home sales price in Fairfield County is the highest in Connecticut at $522,000, with an income of $156,789 required to qualify for a mortgage--$75,731 more than the county's median household income of $81,058.
The report indicates families earning the median income can't afford a median-priced home in 112 of the states 169 municipalities, despite a decline in property values.
"It makes our job very tough," said Paul Thury of Prudential Connecticut Realty in Norwalk. Thury is president of the Mid-Fairfield County Association of Realtors, which includes 1,100 members in Westport, Wilton, Weston and Norwalk.
"Every day we have someone who comes in wanting to live in these communities, and the homes are not only difficult to buy, but even the rents are out of their range," Thury said. "It's impossible to come up with a monthly $4,000 mortgage if you are unemployed or have a job that doesn't pay more than median-income."
Thury said things could get even worse if Congress approves what he predicted would be "very damaging legislation" under review. He said Congress is considering making a dramatic change in FHA loans, which make it possible for first-time homebuyers to put down a 3.5 percent. He said the minimum could be raised all the way to 20 percent.
Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Stamford-based Business Council of Fairfield County, which lists 400 members with 38,000 employes, said changes are needed to make homes more affordable.
"It's a major challenge that has been a problem in Fairfield County for 25 to 30 years," he said. "On one hand we have a very desirable area where people want to live, but many communities are not affordable and that's been getting worse."
McGee said for example that "Norwalk was not on that list of [20 least affordable] communities just a few years ago, but has had a very large improvement in its housing stock--with the unintended consequence that mortgages are much harder to get."
McGee said local zoning boards need to loosen regulations and allow increased density so land costs drop for developers, resulting in lower home prices.
Even with housing prices dropping 10 to 15 percent during the recession, McGee pointed out that it has become tougher for families to buy homes in Fairfield County.
"The banks have made it tougher to get a mortgage and that has had a chilling effect on the housing market," McGee said.
Indeed, while housing prices have declined from their 2007 peak, "they are still too high for many families and individuals to afford," said Howard G. Rifkin, interim executive director of The Partnership for Strong Communities.
"The fact that the median household is priced out of so many municipalities prevents them from finding the neighborhoods that work best for their families," Rifkin said.
Rifkin said the state's housing problems are more serious than The Partnership analysis indicates.
"Even affordable towns shown in this study will not be affordable to many families," Rifkin said.
Have you tried buying a home in Fairfield County? Let us know what that was like with a comment below.
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