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Wilton’s Changing Demographics: Census 2020 Reveals More Diversity, Fewer Children and Lasting Impact | Good Morning Wilton

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Graphic: U.S. Census Bureau

Data from the 2020 U.S. Census, the 24th national census since the first one was conducted in 1790, and the first to permit online responses, was first released beginning in August 2021. The numbers reflected a significant change for Wilton.

The vast data set will be used for myriad purposes on both the federal and state level — from public policies and infrastructure planning to voting districting and much more — but it is also instructive to analyze on a local level.

GOOD Morning Wilton is sharing some of the most meaningful information about Wilton’s changing population, based on our review of the raw statistics as well as those highlighted by the Connecticut-based, non-profit group, DataHaven, which reports on specific census data points as indicators of social and economic well-being in each of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns.

Editor’s Note: DataHaven also conducts its own survey of residents’ health, the DataHaven Community Well-being Survey, in partnership with dozens of hospitals, charitable organizations, public agencies, and other organizations. That survey is not part of GMW‘s analysis.

Overall Growth

According to the 2020 census data, Wilton’s population grew by 2.4% in the decade since 2010, reaching 18,503 people.

Wilton’s growth outpaced the state as a whole, which had a population increase of 0.9%. Though only a marginal increase, it counters the perception that residents are leaving Connecticut in droves.

While Wilton’s population growth also outpaced nearby towns like Weston (1.7%) and Ridgefield (1.6%), the highest growth was seen in bigger cities like Stamford (10.5%) and Norwalk (6.5%).

Wilton’s population growth was lower than Greenwich (3.8%), New Canaan (4.5%), Darien (3.7%), Fairfield (3.5%) and, by a slight margin, Westport (2.8%).

The 2020 census figures missed the wave of new residents that began pouring into suburbs like Wilton during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a residential real estate boom that has continued in Wilton through 2021. This would suggest that Wilton’s population may have grown at a higher rate since 2020.

Growth In Racial Groups

As of 2020, 20% of Wilton’s residents are people of color — a proportion that has doubled since 2010.

Now representing roughly 1-in-10 Wiltonians, Asian groups make up the highest share of Wilton’s non-white population.

The doubling of Wilton’s non-white population may be encouraging for advocates of greater diversity. However, despite the increase, Wilton remains far less diverse than the state as a whole. Compared to 63% of all Connecticut residents, 80% of Wilton residents are white.

Furthermore, Wilton significantly under-represents Black and Latino segments relative to their size in Connecticut’s total population. Latino residents represent 5% of Wilton’s population, compared to 17% at the state level. Black residents make up just 1% of Wilton’s population — a level unchanged in 10 years — compared to 10% of the state.

Wilton’s 20% non-white population is similar to our surrounding geographic “Public Use Microdata Area” (PUMA) towns — New Canaan, Weston, Fairfield and Easton — as well as Ridgefield, Darien and Westport (all in the 16-19% range). But Wilton is far below Norwalk and Stamford, where fully half of the population is non-white, illustrating how racially divided communities in Connecticut are.

Beyond Stamford and Norwalk, only Greenwich (28%) has a higher non-white population than Wilton.

Decline in Children’s Population

Another key change in Wilton’s population is the decline in the number of children, down 10.9% since 2010.

That equates to 619 fewer school-aged children in the Wilton school district in 2020 than there were in 2010.

With a similar pattern seen across the state, this change has been on the district’s radar for some time. Projections for declining enrollment have been reflected in the Wilton school budget in recent years, though long-range projections are typically not relied upon in the budget process. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, changes in enrollment are difficult to predict with any real precision more than a year or two in advance.

The school-aged population numbers are likely to factor into the debate about school choice programs like the Open Choice Program, in which high-performing districts can opt to take students from nearby lower-performing districts. This program, overseen by the state Department of Education since 1997, was recently expanded to make Norwalk and Danbury eligible to send students to host districts.

In a letter to the editor at GMW this past summer, Board of Ed chair Debbie Low said, “We anticipate a recommendation regarding the [Open Choice] program from [Wilton Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Smith] in the fall, after we examine our enrollment numbers and projections to determine to what extent space may be available.”

As of 2020, the median household income in Wilton was $193,292 — nearly two and a half times the state median income of $78,444.

As with race/ethnicity, the disparity between the median income in Wilton compared to Norwalk ($85,769) and Stamford ($93,059) is striking. Advocates for racial equity also point to wealth, and not strictly annual income from job salaries, as an indicator of economic security or success, particularly when it comes to the affordability of housing and higher education.

Such an income disparity is not unique to Wilton; virtually every town in the area has a significant income advantage over Stamford and Norwalk. Among our affluent neighbors, Wilton’s median income falls in the mid-range:

Future Growth

Taking a broader view about the age shifts, Wilton’s long-range Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) also documented the concern about the trend away from Wilton’s “younger-worker and school-aged population,” calling for policies that would “smartly grow population” and support a more vibrant community:

“Policies directed toward reasonable population growth rates will also support the economic goals of this Plan by providing a larger consumer and employee base for businesses, improved economic activity, and higher property values, which will provide additional property tax revenue to the Town.”

Planning and Zoning Commission chair Rick Tomasetti says that a “reasonable” number of new residents has typically been considered to be 1,000-2,000 when discussed by various officials and residents during the POCD process.

Any discussion about attracting more young adults or increasing Wilton’s population inevitably leads to another, more complicated topic: housing.

Where would one or two thousand more Wilton residents actually live?

As of 2019, only 4% of Wilton land is undeveloped (not including protected open space). Wilton’s housing stock is overwhelmingly single-family homes on lots of 1-2 acres, and they are largely owner-occupied.

According to the latest census data, of Wilton’s 6,090 households, 86% are homeowner households. That’s much higher than Norwalk (58%), Stamford (52%) and Greenwich (66%), but similar to Darien, New Canaan, Ridgefield, Westport and Fairfield (all 79%-86%). Only Weston (96%) is higher.

There simply isn’t much “middle housing” in Wilton as an alternative to family-sized, single-family homes. The 2019 POCD recognized the need to increase the diversity of Wilton’s housing options in order to attract and retain residents at various life stages and income levels, such as young singles/couples, downsizing homeowners, and municipal workers, for example.

The lack of more diverse and affordable housing options is what advocacy groups argue is a barrier or even “exclusionary” for many socio-economic groups to live in Wilton.

“Diversifying the Town’s housing stock is a top community goal for the next date,” the POCD stated, with emphasis on smaller housing units and multi-family housing in Wilton Center and along the Danbury Rd. corridor.

That’s easier said than done. Although in recent months there has been a very high level of developers’ interest in building multi-family housing in Wilton (First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice has called it “unprecedented“), it’s not clear if or when specific proposals will come to fruition. At least one significant proposal, an upscale 162-unit apartment complex at the corner of Pimpewaug and Danbury Rds., was recently withdrawn by the developer after failing to gain traction with the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Still, Wilton will almost certainly see an increase in its apartment inventory if any of the proposals currently in the pre-application or application process ultimately go through:

Two significant projects that have been given Town approval are 200 Danbury Rd. at the corner of Sharp Hill Rd. (now under construction, with 24 residential units) and 300 Danbury Rd. previously known as Crossways, at the intersection of Ridgefield Rd. (with 74 units, “shovel ready” but currently on hold).

Even if more housing inventory is created, will it be affordable to new residents who wish to move here?

Even for households at Wilton’s high median income level, housing costs can be hard to absorb. According to DataHaven, 17% of Wilton residents spend half or more of their income on housing costs, and another 16% spend at least 30% on housing — suggesting a real burden for as many 1-in-3 Wiltonians.

Given the income levels in places like Norwalk and Stamford, it’s easy to see how Wilton is unaffordable, especially when they are few, if any, multi-family or middle housing alternatives here.

That’s just part of the reason affordable housing has become a hot topic.

Related to the POCD goal of smart population growth and greater diversity of housing options, the POCD also specifies the goal to diversify housing price points.

“Diversifying the price points of housing will increase the Town’s ability to attract and retain a socio-economically diverse range of individuals and households inclusive of young professionals and seniors,” according to the POCD.

Hungry for more data? Check out the U.S. Census website for all kinds of data charts and tools, DataHaven also offers a number of data sets and reports for download, including the 2021 report on each of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns

This content was originally published here.

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