New London ― In 2020, Maya Scott moved into her second apartment.
For the 25-year-old Scott, it was her first apartment in New London, where she grew up, and a chance to begin her adult life in the city with her fiancé Julian Tolliver and her dog, Bella.
After graduating from high school, she got a certificate in phlebotomy and a job at Quest Diagnostics. Her rent began at $1,100 in 2020 for a two-bedroom apartment on Bayonet Street. The modest, yet spacious 1,100-square-foot unit was a testament that young people could have an affordable home in New London and start a life here as well.
In 2022, Scott was told her rent would be raised to $1,422, an increase of 29%. Quickly, she began to realize the rising prices were not justified.
“It’s not luxury. It’s basic,” Scott said about her apartment.
Recently, she received a notice that her rent would go up to $1,540, a 40% increase from the lease she initially signed in 2020.
“People of our generation are being overlooked,” she said.
Scott’s story reflects a development happening throughout the nation. A rise in rents has forced young tenants out of urban neighborhoods, or into paying increased rents to stay.
City officials say the rise in rents is caused by the lack of market rate housing in New London. New London Mayor Michael Passero said he is confident that increasing rental housing inventory for affordable and luxury housing will stimulate the market.
Housing costs have gone up
The rise in rents has resulted in young adults who grew up in New London seeking to leave the city or the state altogether. Their fears are validated by the numbers.
According to Rent Data, a website aggregating housing data, the median-priced one-bedroom unit in the New London-Norwich area is $1,251, up from $1,069 in 2021. The median-priced two-bedroom is $1,541, up from $1,332.
With the rent increase, Scott began looking at new apartments and initiated her search near downtown New London. The Beam, a new luxury apartment complex off Howard Street, quickly made Scott realize the rental market in the area wasn’t for her.
Scott toured a 477-square-foot studio apartment in the complex. She was taken aback by its $1,500 monthly price tag. It was almost the same amount she currently paid for her apartment at less than half the size. Two-bedroom units in the complex start at $2,472 a month as of April 26.
The Beam, which began leasing this winter was touted as a development that would “enhance your lifestyle along the scenic Thames River,” according to the apartment’s website.
Jason Rudnick, the principal of New Haven-based commercial real estate development company RJ Development + Advisors, told The Day in December that the 203-unit complex was meeting a “need for housing in New London and the region with the growth of Electric Boat, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and the rising off-shore wind industry.”
Monthly rental costs are similar at other new apartment buildings in the region. Waterford Woods is one of the newest apartment complexes in the area. The development on Willetts Avenue in Waterford has 98 units. Kevin Daley, the developer, told The Day in December 2021 that the project would “set a whole new bar for apartments.”
The development promotes itself as a “resort-style” luxury complex with expansive amenities, including a clubhouse, saltwater pool and pickle ball court.
One-bedroom units start at $1,675 for a 700-square-foot unit and go up to $1,825 for an 864-square-foot one-bedroom unit. Two-bedroom units range from $2,275 a month for a 1,203-square-foot apartment up to $2,595 for a 1,252-square foot floor plan.
In New London, studios at 60 Mansfield Apartments off Ocean Avenue start at $1,615. The Docks apartments on Bank Street have a lower price point on studios, starting at $1,255. Both look to target young, professional workers with similar amenities and community features, as well.
Affordability over amenities
“I don’t care about the gym or extra amenities,” Scott said after viewing luxury apartments that had high price tags and smaller units.
“When you’re fresh out of college or a certificate program, most places won’t even hire you because you don’t have the experience,” she said. “So it’s frustrating because how would you expect a college student or (a young worker) to afford $1,700 a month?”
Others share Scott’s concerns about new housing developments boxing millennials, born between 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z, born between 1997 to 2012, out of the area.
Taylin Santiago, 21, is a senior at the University of Connecticut studying Africana studies and urban and community studies.
Santiago grew up off of State Pier Road her whole life. In high school, she worked on social justice initiatives, including Hearing Youth Voices, a program advocating for educational justice for marginalized groups. Last summer, she conducted research on federal urban renewal efforts in New London that took place in the 1960s.
“New London is home. But it’s getting expensive and hard to find a reasonably priced apartment,” Santiago said.
She said she is weary of the new “luxury” housing developments and fears young people will be boxed out of the market.
“I feel like everybody should know that when you’re doing these large development projects, you’re pushing out parts of this community that have been here for generations. Is that the kind of city that you want? You have to be cautious about how you redevelop,” she said.
‘It just isn’t worth living here’
The housing market has made Santiago consider moving from New London or even moving out of Connecticut. The construction of luxury apartments, rather than more affordable apartments and multi-family homes, is indicative to her that the city is no longer for young, working-class people.
“Their marketing is directed at a certain demographic. It’s young and wealthier people who have better access to money. People are going to be pushed out of New London. A lot of us are people of color who live in multi-generational family homes. When you’re excluding those people, you’re pushing them out of the state.”
Scott and her fiancé, Julian Tolliver, a welder at Electric Boat, are considering moving from Connecticut. The couple is finding it increasingly difficult to justify the higher cost of living.
“It just isn’t worth living here. There’s a couple of places in mind,” Tolliver said.
Scott agreed that moving out of state is one of the more likely solutions to escaping the high rents in the area. Although born here, Scott said she was “eager to pack up and move and see what could be better.”
‘Rents are going up everywhere’
Passero believes the city has plenty of affordable housing, citing that over 40% of the housing in the area is income restricted. He sees the increase in luxury housing as indicative that the city is growing.
“It’s actually a good thing. EB needs 5,700 more employees next year. Those people need to live somewhere,” Passero said referring to Electric Boat’s anticipation of hiring thousands of new workers.
He sees opponents of the new housing developments as “misinformed” about the opportunities that will be brought to the area by wealthier tenants who are willing to pay a premium for housing.
“As soon as we started building the market-rate housing, we started getting criticized for it, which I think is very unfair. These developers see the opportunity in New London to make an investment,” he said.
Passero says that “the problem with New London is we haven’t built market-rate housing in (over) 40 years,” which has decreased housing availability for lower-income tenants.
According to a 2021 report conducted by RKG Associates Inc., a real estate consulting firm, the share in units over $1,000 a month has risen, due to an “increase in higher-income renter households over the past decade,” which could be pushing “rent prices upwards.”
“The market is being consumed by those who can afford more,” said New London Director of Economic Development Felix Reyes.
Reyes said he is hopeful the new luxury housing in New London will allow for higher-income tenants to rent in the city without taking more affordable supply.
‘This is how we combat increasing rents’
The problem that Reyes said he wants to combat is unfair rent increases, similar to what Scott experienced. In his view, preserving a fairly priced rental market in New London, while also increasing the inventory in affordable and market-rate housing will allow New London to preserve its culture and create opportunities for economic development.
Last week, the City Council voted to establish a fair rent commission, which can deny an “unconscionable rent” increase and reduce the rent to a fair price, phase in a rent increase, or delay a rent increase until the housing code violations are fixed.
“This is how we combat (increasing rents in New London),” Reyes said. “When a family is being pushed out, that’s when the government has to really step in. Housing is a right.”