New units Fairfield looks to address affordable housing
Finding housing in southwestern Connecticut is never easy. For families below the area median income, the search can be even more arduous.
Demand for affordable housing in Fairfield County continues to outpace supply, leaving some towns looking for ways to boost their inventory. With hundreds of units of apartments slated for construction in the town of Fairfield, officials in the coastal town are looking to address the demand for affordable housing any way they can.
“The lack of affordable housing in Fairfield County is at a crisis level of need,” said Carol Martin, executive director of the town’s housing authority.
While the state maintains a goal of affordable housing accounting for 10 percent of the housing stock in municipalities, Fairfield, like most towns, lags most of the region at about 2.5 percent, according to reports from the state.
Fairfield’s housing authority and its affiliates currently maintain three separate wait lists for its affordable housing and rental assistance program.
“The average wait time on any of these lists are six to eight years,” said Martin in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media. “My office receives approximately three to five calls a day from individuals and families needing affordable housing.”
To Fairfield’s director of economic development, Mark Barnhart, the current state of affordable housing in Fairfield is “very much a work in progress.”
He said town officials have been working to address the issue for years, citing the town’s affordable housing plan that had previously been updated in 2014.
The Representative Town Meeting adopted an ordinance establishing a housing trust fund during the spring. The trust fund was included in recommendations in the updated housing plan.
The ordinance allows for funds gathered from state and federal grants, donations and more to go to facilitate construction of affordable housing.
In recent years the committee has adopted an inclusionary zoning regulation that requires developers constructing 10 or more housing units to allocate at least 10 percent of their apartments as affordable or below market rate.
Ongoing projects like the second Fairfield Trademark development on Commerce Drive are slated to bring more than 500 rental units to the Fairfield’s market and, with it, a boost to the affordable housing stock.
“It’s an ongoing need,” Barnhart said. “There are some units that are not subject to need restrictions, but still meet affordability criteria. But still the need and demand outweighs the supply at this time.”
Statewide, as well, demand for affordable housing remains a serious issue.
In the last eight years, however, the issue has hit some long-awaited momentum, according to Daniel Arsenault, legislative program manager for the state Department of Housing.
Since 2011, the state has invested $1.42 billion in the development of affordable housing, matched by roughly $2.5 billion in non-state sources in the development of affordable housing including the private sector. As a result, the department has funded nearly 25,000 units of affordable housing, according to Arsenault.
“In almost 30 years we didn’t have a state focus on building affordable housing and we need to make up for that,” he said.
There are still several barriers to address, according to Erin Boggs, executive director of Hartford-based nonprofit Open Communities Alliance, which addresses opportunity disparities, including in housing.
One long-standing barrier, she said, concerns outdated and exclusionary zoning ordinances, especially in the suburbs. The vast majority of affordable housing in southwestern Connecticut is in the cities.
“In addition to land costs are all kinds of zoning barriers, so the number of towns that have serious restrictions where multifamily and affordable units can be built is significant,” she said. “Until we see start to see a change in that element of how local government runs in Fairfield County, it’s hard to imagine that we are going to see a change in where affordable housing is located.