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Officials review range of options to increase 'affordable' housing in Fairfield

Photo by Genevieve Reilly

Consultant Glenn Chalder presents options available to increase affordable housing in Fairfield to a joint meeting of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission and the Affordable Housing Committee, which is updating its Affordable Housing Plan.

Reaching a goal of classifying 10 percent of the town's housing inventory as "affordable" is probably not realistic, according to a Tuesday night discussion by town officials.

However, there are ways to increase the amount of affordable housing units and qualify Fairfield for a moratorium on "8-30g," a state statute that gives developers leverage in filing plans to build multi-family complexes.

A joint meeting of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission and the Affordable Housing Committee reviewed those options as the housing group prepares to update its plan for the town initially written 25 years ago.

Under state statutes, unless 10 percent of a town's housing units meeting "affordable" income guidelines, developers can apply to build housing complexes that set aside a portion of units as affordable in exchange for density higher than would be allowed under local zoning regulations. The burden of proof falls on the local zoning board, should it deny such an application, to prove that the project would be detrimental to the town.

But if a town reaches a certain threshold of affordable housing -- in Fairfield's case, 433 housing unit points -- it can qualify for a four-year moratorium from 8-30g. Right now, the town has 121.5 points, and needs 311.5. Points are allocated based on the type of housing, and income-eligibility levels. The housing must also be deed-restricted as affordable.

Housing and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart said that the proposed redevelopment of the Pine Tree senior housing complex -- with more units that would not be restricted to senior renters -- would garner the town another 100 points, while rewriting the deed restrictions on housing managed by Operation Hope could mean another 20 points.

"This town is pretty much built up," said TPZ Vice Chairman Gerry Alessi. "It's expensive to live here, and I think a lot of people like that. I think building our way out of it is impossible."

Barnhart agreed, but added, "There are ways to get there ... It's not a one-size fits all approach."

Glenn Chalder, of Planimetrics, the consulting firm assisting the housing committee in updating its plan, said other towns are using variations of incentive housing zones allowed by state statute. These are overlay zones where, for example, the town would allow the developer to deed restrict the units as affordable for 30 years, instead of 40, as 8-30g requires, in exchange for setting aside a large number of affordable units.

"There's a multitude of strategies that can be employed," Barnhart said. Another way could be offering tax breaks, perhaps, for deed-restricted accessory apartments, or zoning that requires accessory apartments added to homes less than five years old be deed-restricted.

"We're looking to increase housing opportunities as broadly as we can," Affordable Housing Committee Chairman Stephen Grathwohl said.

The town needs, Barnhart said, "to have a lot of different tools in our tool kit. I think the plan is essentially a compilation of the tools we think the town can utilize."

Chalder said the revised affordable housing plan, expected to be finished by summer, would provide recommendations, case studies from other towns and suggested zoning amendments to increase the number of affordable units.

Genevieve Reilly

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