Advocates affirm need for High Street housing
FAIRFIELD — Despite widespread community efforts to halt construction of an affordable housing complex at 980 High St., the project’s organizers remain committed to its implementation.
Property records show that the Fairfield Housing Corporation bought the property for $2.1 million last December. Though designs and plans have not been finalized, the project is slated to consist of 40 units across five buildings on the High Street property. This would include 6 three-bedroom units, 16 two-bedroom units and 18 one-bedroom units.
In this plan, 32 of the 40 units would be affordable units, rented at a certain percentage bracket of the town’s median income, while the other eight would be rented at market rate.
Advocates for the project hold that there is a massive demand for this kind of housing in Fairfield. Carol Martin, Executive Director of the Fairfield Housing Authority, said that the 80 units of their two current properties, Trefoil and Pinetree, barely even begin to meet the need for local affordable housing.
After opening up its wait list last month, the Housing Authority already has 1,170 applications for only 100 randomly selected spots on the list. With only two or three units turning over each year, even these lucky 100 applicants aren’t likely to get a spot as it stands.
“We’re in crisis mode in Fairfield for affordable housing,” Martin said. “There’s certainly not enough supply to meet the demand.”
The High Street complex, proponents argue, would be an important step towards establishing sufficient affordable housing in Fairfield.
“Had we had the 40 units at High Street, we could serve 40 more individuals, plus add another hundred to that wait list,” Martin said.
Since the complex was proposed, some Fairfield residents have rallied against it in opposition, showing up in large numbers to public meetings, as well as creating Facebook pages and a GoFundMe campaign.
In previous reporting, residents have argued that affordable housing units should be located closer to commercial areas. In response to criticism that residents wouldn’t be able to access public transportation from High Street, Martin noted that she walked herself to the nearest bus stop and timed it to be only eight and a half minutes. The High Street property, she said, is also a close walk to stores on Black Rock Turnpike, as well as nearby pharmacies and doctors.
Other criticisms have cited the historical nature of the Judd Estate, which was built in 1895. In response, Martin said that the Housing Authority has always been committed to preserving the original remaining portion of the house and still plans to repurpose the interior for office and community space.
This week, the organization Fairfielders Protecting Lands and Neighborhoods (FairPLAN) published an op-ed embracing the principles of affordable housing in Fairfield. Reached for additional comment, FairPLAN co-chairs Alexis Harrison and Mary Hogue emphasized their organization’s support of affordable housing.
“There is a large and growing need for affordable housing for a myriad of people,” Harrison and Hogue said. “Having a diverse population makes our community stronger and more desirable — varied housing options that suit wider incomes does that.”
However, FairPLAN is concerned that the current 8-30g status of Fairfield affordable housing, which allows developers to bypass town zoning laws and regulations, is dangerous to both historical and environmental preservation.
“We strongly support affordable housing, but we believe that 8-30g unfairly limits a town’s right to determine what can be built where, creating unintended consequences that can be damaging to neighborhoods, historical sites and environmental protection,” Harrison and Hogue said.
While advocating for affordable housing, then, FairPLAN is also committed to highlighting the voices of local objectors. “We as a society can and should work hard to achieve both goals, which are not mutually exclusive,” they stated.
The next step for the Housing Authority will be to attend a public hearing in front of the Conservation Commission on July 10, as well as to meet with the Board of Selectman the same day by special request.