Soundbites without solutions abound these days. As President Trump stokes fears about affordable housing and its destruction of the suburbs, I can’t help but notice some noise at the local level with a similar sound. While there is consensus that the affordable housing statute 8-30g is extremely flawed, the law seems to be affecting one of its goals very well: punishing towns that fail to take decisive action to pursue a proactive, long-term plan to develop affordable housing.
Fairfield, like many other CT towns, was not originally designed to have a wide variety of housing stock, which is why a thoughtful plan on how to achieve this is necessary. Others have cited the good work Fairfield did pre-1990 in building several affordable housing units, like Sullivan-McKinney and Parish Court. That was over three decades ago. We have had 30 years to work toward creating a meaningful plan to identify future sites that are approaching retirement and setting them aside for future development, planning what the appropriate size and capacity should be, collaborating with developers on aesthetics so these developments fit the charm of the surrounding community, and applying for grants to build more low-income units in addition to affordable- and importantly, effectuating this plan.
If Fairfield had identified parcels of land and planned out for 30 years, we could have also been building relationships with developers, which in turn would motivate them to be good neighbors and responsible stewards of achieving this commendable objective. As a part of this plan, ideally, the town would have also set aside conservation zones--land that would be safe from any future development. Had we taken this long-term, systematic approach, we could have played an essential role in driving the process and therefore, the outcome. This approach likely would have helped us avoid the current reality of fewer parcels of land available and largely all on the same side of town both exacerbating density and an already state-identified racial imbalance in our schools.
So where do we go from here? As a Board of Education member, I‘ve witnessed how effective our Long-Range Facilities Plan is in outlining the scope and sequence of major renovations for our 18 facilities so as to meet our maintenance needs, distribute the financial burden, and provide transparency around the process. We need our Town Planner, the Strategic Planning Committee, and our multiple housing agencies and commissions to either come together or each nominate a few members from their respective groups to work with the Town Planner and create such a plan for the town going forward. Delaying on this objective will only make the task more difficult.
A few things we should specifically look into:
Can the town partner with organizations like Operation Hope and the Housing Authority to buy already existing single-family or multi-family housing that could then be deeded “Affordable”?
Are there developers we can partner with because they are committed to the development of affordable housing, and can we work with them to secure grants for land acquisition for these types of projects?
Ensure conservation has a seat at this table.
As a State Representative, I would propose amendments to the law that make it less of a blunt instrument so that these projects can more successfully gain community buy-in and also an amendment to 8-30g where we could earn credits toward our affordable housing goals for the Open Choice students we accept in our schools.
If we take proactive ownership of the process, we can move away from a cycle where the community dislikes each development and distrusts the entire process. We can move toward a cohesive town-developed plan where neighbors have transparency around the development taking place in our community. I hope that I have an opportunity to do real work for Fairfield and put these solutions into action. I tune out the noise and focus on moving us forward with better, smarter planning.