December 17, 2018
As part of the Wall Street/West Avenue Neighborhood Plan, a study was conducted of Norwalk and surrounding towns of such areas as demographics, housing, industry, and employment conditions. These areas were looked at in light of the goal for the neighborhood: to be an innovative urban environment that is accessible, authentic, lively and affordable. Below are some of findings from the study on Norwalk and the Wall Street-West Avenue area’s.
Norwalk has a larger portion of renter-occupied housing and a smaller portion of owner-occupied units than Fairfield County or Connecticut as a whole. Rental units are in demand as the study shows that vacancy rates are also lower for rentals. One possible reason for this trend (coupled with the higher portion of young, working-age residents that the study also found) is that Norwalkers may be more transient than other people in Fairfield County, or the state overall. Young renters tend to move more frequently than older adults who own their homes. This could present an opportunity for the city to convert these young people into longer-term residents as they get older and start families.
Housing Stock by Occupancy Type, 2016
A distinct feature of housing in Norwalk is the share of multi-unit housing, which encompasses 51.7% of total housing in the city. Multi-units represent a greater share in Norwalk than the 41.8% and 40% respectively in Fairfield County and Connecticut. This corresponds with the higher rental rates noted above, as multi-unit housing is more likely to be rental units (such as apartment buildings and multi-family homes) than single-family housing.
Norwalk’s housing stock consists primarily of 1-2 bedroom units, 45.1% of housing, compared to Fairfield County (38.7%) and the state of Connecticut (41.7%). This makes sense considering the large share of the population aged 20-34, who may be earlier on in their careers and less able to afford a larger home or selecting renting as a housing preference due to its flexibility. In developments such as Waypointe the latter seems to be the case as many occupants could afford a single family home but are choosing to live in multifamily housing in denser and more urban neighborhoods.
The demographics of Norwalk are also reflected in data regarding when the householder moved into their current home. A larger percentage of Norwalk residents (35.7%) have moved into their home between 2010 and 2016 compared to Fairfield County and Connecticut with rates of 32.5% and 31.9% respectively. Younger adults are more likely to move into their current home recently as that age group relocates more as they finish college, obtain jobs, and start families. This is also consistent with the rental occupancy rates in Norwalk, as renters are more easily able to move than homeowners
Another distinction of the housing market in Fairfield County relative to Connecticut is housing prices. Housing that is occupied by the owner tends to be much more expensive in the county and in Norwalk compared to the state overall. Both Norwalk and Fairfield County have a much smaller portion of owner-occupied housing units valued below $300,000 than does the state overall.
Value of Owner-Occupied Units, 2016
Low ownership rates along with high rental rates could also be indicative of tight housing stock or lack of options for prospective purchasers. It’s interesting to note that in the stakeholder outreach sessions held during the development of the Wall Street-West Ave Neighborhood Plan, many residents said that rents are too high; businesses also indicated that many employees don’t live nearby because they can’t afford to. Renters also wanted to purchase homes in the area, but said they couldn’t because of high housing costs.
Future Housing Demand
When looking at the future of housing in Norwalk, the study looked at a number of factors including growth in the adult population and shifts in the age distribution. According to EMSI, the population of Norwalk is expected to increase by 3,700 over the next 10 years. The overall change in the number of projected households for Norwalk through 2028 is an increase of over 1,800 households, most of this growth will be in households with a head of household that is under 35 years old and those aged 65 and older.
These population and demographic changes means that more housing and more variety of housing will be needed. The findings suggest the need to consider additional housing options such as micro-units or studio apartments, which could be more accessible financially to younger workers or those of retirement age. Considering the future needs of these groups, housing that will attract young professionals permanently to the area as well as more reasonably priced housing options for working families will be important for the future. The potential new developments in Norwalk will most likely increase the population in Norwalk and in turn increase the demand for additional units and more housing variety throughout Norwalk’s neighborhoods. This additional housing stock and options would help dispel concerns that housing is currently too expensive in Norwalk.