Affordable housing — what does it mean?

The term “affordable housing” might instantly bring to mind controversial oversized building projects that don’t conform to local zoning regulations, but what exactly is affordable housing, and how much is there in Wilton?

It turns out there are few simple answers when it comes to affordable housing — which refers to any number of state and federal programs and even private developments that provide housing at below-market prices.

According to the most recent information from the Wilton Planning & Zoning Department, 3.86% of households in town were considered affordable in 2012.

Of the 236 total affordable units, the majority were “deed restricted units” and “governmentally assisted units.”

A 2013 list of affordable locations in Wilton prepared by the department listed Avalon Wilton, The Greens at Cannondale, Brookdale Place of Wilton, Ogden House, and Wilton Commons as containing applicable rental properties.

It also included sales units counted as affordable at Crowne Pond, Perry Green, Village Court, Lambert Common, Autumn Ridge, Parish Road, and Buckingham Road.

The development plan currently under review by the Planning & Zoning Commission — for a high-density housing project at 44 Westport Road — falls under the State of Connecticut affordable housing regulations known as state statute 8-30g, and would include deed-restricted units.

The hearing for this plan will continue on Monday, June 23, 7:15 p.m., at Cider Mill School.

Statute 8-30g, according to Town Planner Bob Nerney, gives special zoning exemptions to development plans in which 30% of the units would be “affordable.”

Thanks to recent changes in the statute, “affordable” has two definitions in Wilton.

Half of the affordable units in any development must be accessible to someone making 80% of Connecticut’s median income (median $51,200). The second half must be accessible to someone making 60% of the median income (median $38,400).

In a town that has a median income lower than the state median income, affordable housing must be accessible to those making 80% and 60% of that town’s median income. Wilton’s median income is higher than the state’s median income.

If a project meets these minimum affordability requirements, the plan is no longer subject to any number of common zoning regulations like parking, zone density and lighting requirements.

Instead, the only grounds for dismissing an application under statute 8-30g must be related to safety or public health.

In addition, the town has a burden to prove a project’s unsuitability — opposite a normal application when the applicant must prove a project’s specific adherence to zoning regulations.

“There is a tendency to think of affordable housing as low-income housing. But that’s really not the case,” Mr. Nerney said, while pointing to the income levels that qualify for below-market housing.

“These units are for a young person, or a young couple or an elderly person living on a fixed income,” he said.

—Additional reporting by Macklin Reid.