More Sub Workers and Sailors are Coming. Are We Ready?
By: Julia Bergman
January 19, 2019
With the heightened pace of submarine construction bringing an influx of people to live and work in southeastern Connecticut, a study is underway to examine the impact on housing and other services in the region and beyond.
"I would like to see Realtors, developers, town planners, school boards involved in this study," said Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs.
The Pentagon's Office of Economic Analysis gave a grant to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to study housing needs in the region tied to the Navy's buying of more submarines to be built at Electric Boat in Groton. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., helped secure the funding.
The study will help ensure the right kind of housing is in place — from single family to apartments — and in adequate supply. It will also look at the impacts of EB expansion on transportation, and assess the local economic and market conditions.
"We're trying to get in front of a good problem," Ross said.
Those involved with the study, including Ross, Jim Butler and Amanda Kennedy with the Council of Governments, and Frank Fish of BFJ Planning, the lead consultant, met with The Day's Editorial Board Friday afternoon. The study is about two months in and it will be finished by September.
Earlier in the day, they met with a representative in human resources at Electric Boat, and asked for information on the workforce such as where they live, age, job type, income and marital status. Fish said he'd also like to hold focus groups with current EB employees, both the yard workers in Groton and the engineers in New London, to get their assessment of what the region offers and doesn't offer.
"The tradesperson that works in the yard has different desires in terms of where they want to live. They have different incomes. They might have different family situations. They might be the folks that are moving out to Montville or further north to Plainfield and Killingly. They want to own their own home. They want to maintain their own home because they're tradespeople," said Butler, COG executive director.
"The young engineer might want to live in New London or Mystic because they want to take transit or they want to walk to work," he said.
The idea is to prepare municipalities for what's coming, so that when developers come to them with ideas or plans, officials know what's needed.
The influx of workers who need housing will increase property values across the region, according to Fish.
But like most regions, southeastern Connecticut has a "huge lack" of affordable housing, said Kennedy, COG's director of special projects.
"As more people come in that's going to put even more pressure on those lower-cost units," she said.
Those on the lower end of the pay scale at EB are not going to be able to support "new construction," Kennedy said, and that will put more pressure on an already low stock of affordable housing.
500 additional sailors coming
EB's workforce, now at 17,050 employees, is expected to grow to more than 20,000 by the mid-2020s. The company has hired nearly 14,000 people since 2011.
"That suggests some demands on our communities that we're also going to have to take a hard look at it. What it means for housing, schools, transportation," EB president Jeffrey Geiger said last week at the company's annual briefing. These issues need to be looked at from a "macro level," he said.
EB announced in September an $850 million expansion for the construction of a new class of ballistic-missile submarines.
But it won't just be EB hires moving to the area. An additional 500 Navy sailors and their families are expected to come here as well when construction starts on a new class of ballistic missile submarines, and that's a rough estimate.
The ballistic missile submarines carry 15 more sailors — 150 to 135 — than the attack submarines being built at EB. The ballistic missile submarines also each have two crews, whereas the attack submarines have one.
But the ballistic missile subs will not be based in Groton, so sailors will be living here only as long as construction lasts, about two years, so they might not bring their families with them. Determining their housing needs is one of the challenges faced by the BFJ study.
The study also is complicated by the fact that Navy personnel are entitled to a certain level of housing determined by their pay grade.
"Some people are forced to live in what's called inadequate housing because by pay grade it is not the square feet you're entitled to, the number of bedrooms, the number of bathrooms, so we have to manage that," Ross said.
"If you take that entitlement, and then you lay that over the available housing inventory, I think we're going to find you have a whole lot of inadequate housing," he said.