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Wednesday, April 25 News

Plans filed to replace Pine Tree apartments with larger complex

The Fairfield Housing Authority wants to demolish the Pine Tree Lane apartments for senior citizens and build a larger housing complex with more spacious units.

And, under the changes envisioned, the new apartments would no longer be restricted to senior residents.

"We're going to expand respectfully," said Carol J. Martin, executive director of the Fairfield Housing Authority. "We have 38 now and we're going to have 50. We'd like to build a lot more because of the need in town, but we want to have a respectful development."

The housing authority has filed an application for the proposed redevelopment in the town's Conservation Department and requested a public hearing before the town's Inland Wetlands Commission. A hearing date hasn't been set for the project, which also would require approval from the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

Martin said the proposed apartments would be larger and offer modern amenities, such as washers and dryers, dishwashers and central air conditioning, which the current apartments lack. She said the proposed apartments, unlike the existing units, also would be better insulated so residents' heating bills wouldn't be so high.

The proposed apartments also would be open to all age levels, and income eligibility would change from 80 percent of the state's median income to 60 percent of the region's median income, Martin said. She said the proposed apartments likely would have people with higher incomes because the existing units aren't attractive to people who have other options.

"Right now, marketing our units is our biggest detriment. We can't compete with 60 percent to 80 percent," she said. "If you don't keep up with people's expectations, you eventually take yourself out of the market."

The Pine Tree apartments now have an income eligibility limit of $44,750 for a single person and $51,100 for a couple, both of which are based on 80 percent of the statewide median income, according to a chart provided by Martin.

The income eligibility for the proposed apartments, as it now stands, would be $35,160 for a single and $40,200 for a couple, both of which are based on 60 percent of the current area median income. While those limits are lower, the proposed apartments likely will attract higher-income people than those willing to rent the existing apartments, according to Martin.

The current development had been financed under the state's housing program for the elderly, Martin said. "When we get removed from that program, it will allow us greater flexibility in the populations we serve," she said. "The only real, true scrutiny on criteria would be income."

Changing the criteria from state median income to the area median also will increase the pool of applicants, Martin said. "We'll be able to serve more folks," she said.

The existing development, built in the late 1960s and early '70s on three acres, has 20 efficiency apartments of about 400 square feet and 18 one-bedroom apartments of about 450 feet. All of the apartments are in 10 single-story buildings and the complex also has a one-story building where the authority's offices are located.

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The proposed development would have eight two-story buildings, with 40 one-bedroom apartments of about 750 square feet and 10 two-bedroom apartments of about 1,238 square feet, not including a single-story community building that will have the authority's business office, according to Martin and the housing authority's application.

"They'll be built market-rate, what you would expect if you're buying a new condo and home," Martin said. Construction is expected to last from 16 to 20 months, according to the application.

The Pine Tree Lane housing development is now fully occupied. Once construction is ready to begin, the authority would find housing in the private market for half of the development's residents, Martin said. Then, after half of the proposed development is built, tenants still at Pine Tree Lane would move into the new units. After the second half of the development is built, off-site tenants would be moved back in, Martin said.

"Everybody here will have a home when we're done," she said.

Martin said determining which tenants get moved off-site depends on underground infrastructure. "Typically what dictates that is utility companies and sanitary and water services. We haven't gotten that far along," she said.

Financing for the project is expected to include Low Income Housing Tax Credits allocated by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and other state funds administered by the state Department of Housing, according to the application. Martin said the project also may be financed through a bond from the state. But she added, "We're not even prepared yet to submit a financing application."

Martin, the authority's executive director for two years, said the waiting list to occupy the Pine Tree Lane apartments is now closed and has been closed since she's been there. But she expected the waiting list to open shortly. She said the housing authority only opens the waiting list for a short period of time and that the true indication of people's need for affordable housing is seen in the five to nine phone calls that the authority receives each day for housing, Martin said. "These are typically folks in desperate need," she said.

The Fairfield Housing Authority also oversees affordable apartments on Trefoil Court. Martin said minor site improvements would take place at that development before the Pine Tree Lane project begins.

Once the Pine Tree Lane development is built, Martin said she "would contemplate doing something to expand housing opportunities at Trefoil Court."