Trust fund to help town offer affordable housing options
FAIRFIELD — A new ordinance could help kickstart the town’s efforts to increase affordable housing in Fairfield.
The Representative Town Meeting recently unanimously adopted an ordinance establishing a housing trust fund. The ordinance had bipartisan sponsorship. Now, the Town Planning and Zoning Commission will need to adopt regulations making the ordinance a reality.
The trust fund was recommended by the updated Affordable Housing Plan as well as the TPZ’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
“I expect that the Affordable Housing Committee will be making an application, or a request for the TPZ to do so, to propose a regulation for a new inclusionary fee now that the trust fund is established,” Planning Director James Wendt said. He said he has not seen any proposals as of yet and isn’t sure at this point what the ultimate process will be.
However the trust fund comes into being, officials whose goal it is to provide affordable housing are happy with the news.
Stephen Grathwohl sits on the Affordable Housing Committee and was chairman when the plan was updated in 2014. “I am very happy that the RTM adopted the housing trust fund ordinance,’ he said. “It’s an important step for the town.”
Grathwohl said the trust fund should receive money from many sources, such as federal and state grants, individual donations and bequests, as well as permit fees so that there are continued annual deposits. “The trust fund is designed to be a vehicle to help the town achieve its affordable housing goals. If there are no monies in the trust fund, it cannot fulfill its purpose.”
The ordinance adopted allows for funds to come from all those sources cited by Grathwohl.
Any expenditures must first be approved by the Affordable Housing Committee and the Community and Economic Development director, and then by the Board of Selectmen.
“I just finished reading the ordinance, and certainly, from my vantage point, any fund created to support more affordable housing opportunities in Fairfield is well-needed,” said Carol Martin, executive director of the Fairfield Housing Authority.
Westport, where Martin also heads up the Housing Authority, has a Planning and Zoning Commission subcommittee to make recommendations to existing regulations, including discussion of a housing fund. New Canaan has had a housing trust fund since 2005. All applications in New Canaan for a zoning permit for any building construction or addition in any zone require a fee of $10 for every $1,000 of construction value. That money goes into the housing fund, and in 2014, estimated that $2.5 million had been collected and $900,000 distributed to support affordable housing.
“I think Fairfield’s housing trust fund would be helpful in providing adaptive reuse of existing town-owned structures,” Martin said, or “provide needed gap money to a project that would otherwise not get funded, and possibly provide ‘first in funds’ to obtain control of a site that would otherwise not have any affordable units.”
Martin said she appreciated the RTM’s leadership and recognition of the need for affordable, quality housing. Many residents, she said, “do not have the housing they need to remain in Fairfield, which for decades they have called home.” The need is not just for senior citizens, Martin said. “Our young adults as well are seeking independent quality housing, many of whom have student loans, car loans, and other expenses which makes a market rate rental out of reach.”
Connecticut General Statues allow any town to implement “inclusionary” zoning regulations to promote the development of affordable housing. Those regulations include making payments to a housing trust fund to be used for constructing, rehabilitating, or repairing affordable housing.
“It’s another tool that we can use to help create additional housing options,” Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart said, adding the Affordable Housing Committee modeled their fund using the experiences of other communities.
“The approach is very similar to that used successfully in preserving and creating open space.”