Windsor Locks, Connecticut: A Mill’s Transformation Into Mixed-Income Housing Is Revitalizing the Downtown
Located along the Connecticut River just north of the state capital of Hartford, the town of Windsor Locks is revitalizing its downtown, with affordable and mixed-income housing serving as an important catalyst for its rebirth. The Montgomery Mill, which is situated on a sliver of land between the river and a canal, manufactured tinsel from 1871 to 1990. Following the end of industrial production and after decades of underutilization as artists’ studios, the massive 225,000-square-foot, 5-story structure was transformed into mixed-income housing by Boston-based developer Beacon Communities with the support of the town. In addition to increasing the supply of affordable housing in an opportunity-rich community, Montgomery Mill Apartments advances several objectives, such as preserving historic structures, remediating environmental contaminants, enhancing the town’s recreational infrastructure, and promoting walkable and transit-oriented development. Beacon Communities received a 2020 Jack Kemp Excellence in Affordable and Workforce Housing Award from the Urban Land Institute in recognition of its efforts at Montgomery Mill.
Affordable Housing Helps Achieve Diverse Policy Objectives
Montgomery Mill Apartments consists of three adjoining buildings constructed in three phases in 1891, 1904, and 1920. The development’s 160 units consist of 79 one-bedroom apartments and 81 two-bedroom apartments. Of these, 78 units rent at market rate, 17 units rent to households earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), 16 units have an income limit of 60 percent of AMI, 32 units are restricted to tenants earning no more than 50 percent of AMI, and 17 rent to households with incomes at or below 25 percent of AMI. Building amenities include two community rooms, a fitness center, a pet washing station, storage space, and bicycle parking.
Windsor Locks is a town boasting above-average access to employment and education but lacking affordable housing. Increasing residents’ access to opportunity is a goal of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, which uses five “Opportunity Characteristics” to direct affordable housing development to high-opportunity areas. The agency’s Qualified Allocation Plan awards points to applications for 9 percent low-income housing tax credits for projects that are located within 10 miles of one of the state’s community colleges and in areas where less than 10 percent of housing units receive government subsidies, school districts are rated either average or above average using the GreatSchools district ratings, the poverty rate is less than the state average, and the employment-to-population ratio is greater than the state average. The Montgomery Mill Apartments application scored well in these categories, helping the project secure low-income housing tax credits. The state also provides funding to developers of low-income rental units through the Department of Housing’s FLEX program (table 1). At Montgomery Mill Apartments, FLEX funding helped create units for households earning no more than 50 percent of AMI.
Table 1: Montgomery Mill Apartments Financing
|Low-income housing tax credits||$17,000,000|
|State historic tax credits||12,000,000|
|Federal historic tax credits||11,000,000|
|Department of Housing, Affordable Housing (FLEX) Program||6,000,000|
|Department of Economic and Community Development, brownfield loan||4,000,000|
|Private loans and deferred developer fee||9,000,000|
|Other public funds||4,000,000|
Montgomery Mill produced tinsel thread — threads of silver or gold used in telecommunications — beginning in the early 20th century, during the two world wars, and afterward as consumer electronics proliferated. This history, which is preserved through state and federal historic tax credits, meant that the mill required brownfield remediation to make it safe for habitation. The town further enhanced the green aspects of the site by improving an adjacent park and constructing a pedestrian bridge across the canal to downtown Windsor Locks, where $2.9 million in Complete Streets funding is making the area more bikeable and pedestrian friendly, with a new roundabout slowing vehicular traffic, wider sidewalks for increased safety, and streetscape and placemaking improvements to enhance the downtown’s aesthetic appeal.
Reinvigorating Main Street
The hope for Windsor Locks is that investments in infrastructure and in projects such as Montgomery Mill Apartments will attract more people and businesses to the downtown area and spur further development. The vision for revitalizing Windsor Locks’ downtown found its initial expression in a 2008 study that detailed residents’ deep desire to undo the damage of previous renewal efforts, which involved the large-scale demolition of historic structures. According to Jen Rodriguez, Windsor Locks’ director of planning and development, town residents recognized that a new use for the large, historic mill could catalyze downtown revitalization. To encourage new uses for downtown buildings, the town adopted the Main Street Overlay Zone and adaptive reuse regulations, which were crucial tools for Beacon Communities’ project. The density of Montgomery Mill Apartments advances the town’s goal of transit-oriented development to support the planned relocation of the town’s train station back to downtown, which will offer residents convenient access to Amtrak and commuter rail service. The mill’s redevelopment went hand-in-hand with town efforts to improve access to the head of a 4.5-mile recreational trail, aided by the use of tax increment financing (TIF) in support of Montgomery Mill Apartments. As the first jurisdiction to use the state’s 2015 TIF enabling legislation, Windsor Locks is using its TIF-generated funds to improve signage and other aspects of the public space near the mill. Together, these projects are moving downtown Windsor Locks toward a future that is dense, walkable, and transit oriented and that preserves the town’s legacy structures. Rodriguez reports that more people are using the improved downtown public spaces, and new businesses are opening in the area. For residents of Montgomery Mill Apartments, these amenities will further enhance opportunities for work and leisure, while its long-term affordability will promote equitable access.