Affordable Housing Committee hosts housing needs workshop

A meeting of the Fairfield Affordable Housing Committee on Feb. 12, 2020.

A meeting of the Fairfield Affordable Housing Committee on Feb. 12, 2020.

/ Josh LaBella

FAIRFIELD — “I think everyone can attest to the high cost of housing.”

This quote from the director of the Department of Community & Economic Development, Mark Barnhart, set the tone for the first of several workshops held by the department to discuss the towns continued usage of the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.

The meeting was hosted by the Town’s Affordable Housing Committee in a meeting in the Old Town Hall on Feb. 12. Many of those in attendance represented non-profits that focus on housing needs.

Affordable housing has been a controversial topic in town. While many agrees the town needs to work on creating more of it, few want it in their neightborhoods.

According to a press release, the purpose of the workshop is to solicit public input on housing and homeless needs in conjunction with the development of the town’s five-year consolidation plan. It said the consolidated plan examines community needs and resources to fashion a coordinated, multi-year strategy aimed at improving the lives of the town’s low and moderate-income residents.

“In addition to identifying the Town’s priority housing and community development goals, the Plan must include a needs assessment of its homeless, disabled and other special needs populations,” the release said. “The Town is required to prepare a consolidated plan every five years as a condition of its continued receipt of CDBG funds. Projects may include public improvements, public facilities, public services and economic development activities that principally serve and/or benefit areas or persons of low and moderate income.”

Barnhart said the town expects to receive approximately half a million dollars based on figures provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Barnhart’s presentation served to explain the way the grant money is typically used. This included first-time home buyers assistance, partially funding home renovations to seniors on a fixed income and doling out money to non-profits looking to build affordable housing.

The director said the department gets anywhere from a dozen to 15 applications for funding from non-profits any given year. He said they try to prioritize the projects that are “ready to go” but it can be tricky as many building projects can get snagged up by the permitting process.

According to Barnhart, they usually give out sums in the tens of thousands of dollars to projects that are approved. He said this is not enough to cover an entire contruction, but agencies cobble the funding together with other grant money.

“It’s not a lot of money but it does make a big different in the lives of (some of) the folks here,” Barnhart said.