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July 4, 2022

Intense demand fuels New Haven rental boom

RENDERING | CONTRIBUTED Norwalk developer Spinnaker Real Estate Partners has major multifamily projects ongoing in Hartford and New Haven, including the 200-unit apartment complex (shown above) planned at the former site of the New Haven Coliseum.

The prospective tenant from California had perfect credit, excellent references and more than enough income for the New Haven apartment.

But as one of almost 30 applicants for the $2,400-a-month one-bedroom in the city’s hot East Rock neighborhood, the Californian didn’t stand a chance. The apartment went to someone else.

“It’s crazy,” said Gena Ruocco-Lockery, broker/owner of GRL and Realtors at 520 Chapel St. “Anywhere in New Haven is just difficult. Inventory is still low and there are many applicants applying. You have to be the cream of the crop to get chosen.”

Ruocco-Lockery represents tenants and said the current rental market is the tightest she’s seen in her 25 years in the real estate industry.

“If you asked me three years ago, I would have said it was the most difficult, and now today, I’m going to tell you again, it’s now the most difficult,” she said. “It’s not getting easier. It’s getting harder.”

Despite the hundreds of New Haven apartments coming online in recent months, the city’s strong demand has driven up prices. Now apartment-seekers are settling for units well outside of the city to stay within their price range, said Ruocco-Lockery, who is also a board member of the New Haven Middlesex Association of Realtors.

“It’s supply and demand, and there isn’t a lot of inventory in affordable price ranges,” Ruocco-Lockery said.

Developers evolve with market

Doing their best to meet that demand are developers like Clayton Fowler, principal of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners of Norwalk. In addition to several high-profile projects in Hartford, Spinnaker has two main developments in New Haven, the 400-unit Audubon New Haven and a 200-unit complex planned for the former site of the New Haven Coliseum.

Clayton Fowler

“It’s been a fairly long time in putting it together,” Fowler said of the Coliseum site, which has been used as a parking lot since the arena was demolished in 2007. Ground has been broken for phase one of the project, consisting of the 200 apartments, 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and a 30,000-square-foot public plaza.

“We’re financed. We’re about to start and we hope to bring on relatively quickly and announce a second phase, which will be, I think, highly welcome in town,” Fowler said.

Fueling Fowler’s optimism is Spinnaker’s experience with the Audubon, fully leased for its first phase of 69 units, with a second phase of 135 units nearing completion and already 95% leased. Spinnaker went to city planners earlier this year to add more and larger townhouse units for a phase three and got a green light.

“That’s been very successful,” Fowler said of the Audubon. “We love New Haven; it’s a superior town with superior underpinnings. A great location that feels like a city … highly walkable with parks and restaurants and all of the urban amenities that you might want.”

Developers are eager to build in the city, Fowler said, because employers like Yale, Yale New Haven Hospital and biotech companies continue to hire and draw employees who can pay market rents.

Illustrating the ongoing rise in New Haven’s rental prices was a recent announcement by Darren Seid, developer of the sprawling Olive and Wooster complex adjacent to the city’s pizza enclave, Wooster Square. Rents at the 299-unit complex start at $1,200 a month – for a single room inside a larger apartment.

“Great units for the plug-and-play tenant, or a family in transition,” said Seid of Epimoni Corp., which developed Olive and Wooster with Adam America. Even with one-bedrooms in the project starting at $2,200, “units are disappearing faster than a New Haven pizza,” he added.

Ongoing interest in building

With ribbon-cuttings on new buildings happening on nearly a weekly basis in recent months, New Haven city officials like Deputy Director of Economic Development Steve Fontana are gratified to see continued demand from developers. Queries from those seeking to build continue to come in even as the city imposed new rules this year requiring more affordable housing under an inclusionary zoning law.

“We’re very pleased that we have such a robust, growing marketplace,” Fontana said. “I think we all agree that we need more housing of all kinds and in all neighborhoods. So the interest is really heartening.”

About 600 new units are expected to come online in the city this year, Fontana said, up from an average of 300 to 400 a decade ago. If supply chain, labor and other issues allow for it, he expects to see 800 to 1,000 new apartments per year hitting the market in the near future.

With land for building downtown becoming scarce, entrepreneurs are looking to more distant neighborhoods in the city including Westville, where several projects are expected to progress in coming months. A long-derelict eyesore at Fitch Street and Whalley Avenue may soon make way for a 245-unit apartment complex under a proposal pitched to city planners in mid-June.

An ambitious plan to transform Science Park in Newhallville is also expected to advance this summer with the approval of a 287-unit apartment complex on Winchester Avenue planned for what is now a parking lot.

Twining Properties and L&M Development Partners are expected to break ground on Winchester Green later this year, adding to a burgeoning neighborhood that includes the existing Winchester Lofts and a complex planned for 201 Munson St.

From the city’s perspective, the key to sustaining strong growth in the rental market, as well as the economy as a whole, is to promote New Haven’s quality of life, Fontana said. Active recruitment of nightlife venues and restaurants is key to that strategy, he added.

“We want to leverage our assets and make it a very attractive place to live, work and visit,” Fontana said. “Things are always going on in New Haven, you’ve always got activities, events, the amenities, the food – all these things make it a really attractive place.”

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