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Reps looking for more oversight of city’s affordable housing stock

September 28, 2018

STAMFORD — After several controversial moves by city developers in recent months to buy their way out of providing affordable housing, the Board of Representatives has set review sessions with the hope of mending what they see as a broken system.

One measure to supply low-income housing to the growing city, the third largest in Connecticut, is a 15-year-old zoning mandate that 10 percent of all units in new multi-family developments be set aside as affordable — spots that are often held for those earning half of the area’s median income. But a buyout exception built into the rule, partially granted by Stamford’s Zoning Board to a South End project and a downtown high-rise recently brought the rule to the attention of city legislators.

“It seems Stamford has become a city of private developers,” said city Rep. Lila Wallace, D-5, vice chair of the city’s Housing, Community Development and Social Services Committee at a recent review session.

“Nothing is affordable. If you’re a working person in this city you either have to have a Section 8 voucher or you have to have some other subsidy,” she said. “A young person coming to this city, even with a good job, really cannot afford to live here.”

Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing told the committee that while there’s been a recent spate of buyouts, 90 percent of all required affordable units have been included in projects, creating more than 1,000 apartments for low-income residents.

Since the so-called inclusionary zoning mandate went into effect, 1,039 units deemed affordable have been built or pledged by developers, Blessing said. Developers have paid out of the equivalent of 115 units, Blessing said. There has been some $23 million from developers buying out used to fund other housing measures.

“The vast majority of BMR units are on site,” Blessing said. “That is particularly true for the South End, where pretty much all BMR units were provided.”

Blessing also said the Zoning Board’s program does not make up the whole of affordable housing options in the city. The housing authority, Charter Oaks Communities, handles another 2,300 units and administers some 1,500 Federal Section 8 vouchers, he said. More units still are created by non- and for-profit developers, he said.

“Zoning can only do so much,” he said. “There are a couple of things the Board of Reps could do if you so decide.”

Blessing suggested representatives consider legislation that would waive building and zoning fees for affordable projects, set capital money aside for units, and increase staffing levels to ensure city oversight. There is little oversight of affordable units — according to Social Services Director Ellen Bromley — beyond reports submitted to her once a year.

And the affordable housing units in new developments are managed by the developer — each building its own entity to oversee them. Those seeking a unit can find themselves filling out separate applications in a handful of buildings and landing on several wait lists.

City Rep. Robert Roqueta, D-4, who submitted the review item, said the city is failing to keep up with the demand for affordable housing. There is little turnover for public housing units and Section 8 vouchers, he added, leaving many behind.

“I’m hoping to have a dialogue,” Roqueta said.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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