Study Finds Region has Adequate Housing for New Electric Boat Employees
By: Julia Bergman
November 25, 2019
A study looking at the impact of thousands of new residents coming to work at Electric Boat over the next decade has found there will be adequate housing for them in the region but it’s likely that these new employees will rely on cars to get to and from work.
The study, which began in 2018 and primarily looked at housing and transportation, is intended to provide guidance to planners as they navigate future development in their municipalities.
Electric Boat is gearing up to build 12 new ballistic missile submarines, in addition to its current work building attack submarines, and as a result, employment in southeastern Connecticut is expected to grow by about 5,000, peaking in 2029.
While many of the new hires will likely already be living in the region, the study estimates one third will come from outside southeastern Connecticut.
At the same time, more sailors and their families are expected to come to the area with the construction of these new submarines, which are much bigger than the attack submarines. A ballistic missile submarines has two crews consisting of about 150 sailors each whereas an attack submarine has a single crew of about 135.
At the peak, there will be about 600 Navy sailors and families living in the area, about a third of whom are expected to buy or rent in the local community, said Capt. Todd Moore, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base. Moore said the study fits in nicely with his mission to increase the appeal of Groton to sailors.
“I see that as one of my big mandates here, based on the fact that we compete with other naval installations for sailors, I want to make our base and the surrounding community even better than they are (now) in order to entice sailors to want to come and live here, and when their time in the Navy is done, retire here and continue to contribute to the community,” Moore said.
The peak in Navy sailors is expected to happen several times throughout the late 2020s to late 2030s, given the construction schedule for the ballistic missile submarines. These sailors will only be stationed in Groton during construction, as the ballistic missile submarines, known as the Columbia class, will not be based here.
Bob Ross, executive director of the state’s Office of Military Affairs, said at the start of the study there was concern that the increase in sailors and EB employees would strain the region’s housing market, but the findings prove otherwise.
From 2012 to 2017, the region’s population declined by 5,600 residents, or 2%, and “that created some excess (housing) capacity that we didn’t realize was there until we really started looking,” Ross said.
The study says there’s a need for about 500 additional housing units, but that the various housing developments already approved in the region will address that demand.
Nearly 2,000 EB employees were surveyed about their housing and transportation preference as part of the study. The majority of the respondents said they are interested in buying as opposed to renting and are interested in single-family homes.
However, of the newer employees surveyed, those hired in the past three years, almost 40 percent said they prefer to rent and about a third of them said they prefer to live in an apartment or condominium.
Most of the employees surveyed said that they would consider paying more than $1,500 per month for housing to be unaffordable. The starting salary for a new hire at EB is about $40,000 per year and the average is $60,000 annually.
The study finds that affordability will continue to be an issue and may be exacerbated with the greater demand for housing.
“Some new workers may find challenges in locating the types of housing they seek in the locations they want,” the study says. “A number of housing programs are active in the state and should be explored to facilitate new housing at varied income levels, and to support rehabilitation of existing housing stock, in order to help homeowners bring their houses up to modern standards to be attractive to potential buyers.”
The study also recommends that new housing developments consider existing transportation capacity as well as the potential to respond to demand for alternative travel modes, such as transit, walking, and biking.
Among the EB employees surveyed, most would prefer to drive alone to work and for their commute to be less than 30 minutes each way. However, employees under 35 who responded to the survey are significantly more interested in walking and biking to work.
The study found that the traffic resulting from new workers will be manageable on most roadways in the region, with some problem areas in the City of Groton including Five Corners, Poquonnock Road at Rainville Avenue, and Eastern Point Road.
The study proposes improving bicycle and pedestrian conditions on those roads, and calls for a more in-depth review of congestion and safety issues at points along Route 12 in Groton, Route 32 in New London and Waterford, and Route 85 where it intersects with Interstates 95 and 395 in Waterford and New London.
Amanda Kennedy, assistant director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments which received a grant from the Pentagon's Office of Economic Analysis to do the study, said the findings show that the percentage of employees likely to take public transportation to work is not enough to justify major changes to service. But she said the council of governments and City of Groton officials are in “early discussions” with EB about establishing satellite parking lots and shuttle service in the city.
The Pentagon provided $330,423 to the council of governments for two studies: one to examine housing needs in the region, and the other to look at land use around the submarine base to ensure development by surrounding communities doesn't impede base operations and vice versa.
Of the funds, $246,000 was allotted for the housing study. The council of governments contributed about $36,000 in staff time.
Click here to view this article as it originally appeared on The Day website.