First Selectman Laura Francis has once again asked the town's planning and zoning commission to consider a grant that would allow the town to study the feasability of affordable housing in Durham.
The town's lack of housing diversity and affordability, Francis said at Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting, has made it increasingly difficult for young people and seniors to stay in Durham.
"Our youth certainly can't afford the investment. Conversely, our seniors are facing a point in their lives where they want to downsize. That entry level house and that step down house is lacking here in Durham," she said.
Affordable housing includes both 'high-density' developments and mixed-use properties, both of which would require changes in the town's zoning regulations.
In 2008, a similar effort was rebuffed by the commission after some members expressed concern over the town's water and septic limitations, as well as fear the grant would lead to mandates by the state.
Francis said Monday the town would be under no obligation to provide affordable housing if it received the $20,000 grant.
"There are no strings attached," she said.
The timing of the grant — the application is due this spring — comes as the commission reviews the town's Plan of Conservation and Development.
The money itself could be used in a variety of ways to determine feasability, including changing zoning regulations, engineering and planning studies and even a community-led discussion that would give residents a voice in the process.
"What I like about this process is that we're going out to the people. Instead of our commissions hearing what people don't want, this is an outreach process where we find out what they do want," said Francis.
"I think we might be surprised, to some degree, by what we learn."
A handful of other towns have successfully used the grant in revitalization efforts, she said.
Selectmen Steve Levy and John Szewczyk both agreed on the need for affordable housing in Durham but expressed some concern about the town's ability to support it.
High-density housing hinged on the town's access to water from Middletown, Levy said, which is still several years away.
Francis said she planned to visit with the commission at their next meeting to encourage members to vote in favor of moving forward with the grant. Ultimately, afforable housing and mixed-use properties would diversify the town's tax base, she said.
"I feel that Durham is fortunate because we have some properties that if zoned, could be productive."