Hudspeth: Two choices when it comes to affordable housing

Stephen Hudspeth

Stephen Hudspeth

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

Affordable housing has been front and center in at least some people’s minds this season both from those desiring change to open up Wilton to greater housing variety and those who fear that change. The cause has not been greatly advanced by a bill that is going nowhere in our state legislature but is incredibly long and opaquely drafted, supposedly in furtherance of that end.

My take on the issue is something that I addressed in my column of July 9th entitled, “Steps forward on race.” I urged there that Wilton is best served by being itself proactive on the subject on its own terms and in its own way including on the affordable housing front, and the recently crafted and beautifully thought-out and composed POCD (Plan of Conservation and Development) advances that end well.

If we show that we as a town are capable of taking action ourselves, much as we did when the current affordable housing legislation (C.G.S. Section 8-30g) took effect decades ago, we will put ourselves in good stead. At that time, our town created significant housing that qualified as affordable (much of it limited to senior housing, though), and consequently for many years and until very recently our town was exempt from the provisions of that state law that make it easier for developers to come in with projects that do not have to pass the usual full Planning & Zoning Commission requirements for project approval. We can do that again, and the movement to address de jure racial injustices in housing (imposed by government itself, at all levels, as described in that July 9th column) has reinvigorated discussion of the subject locally as well as statewide and nationally.

Our state Department of Housing’s website states that it counts as affordable housing all of the following: (a) “assisted housing receiving financial assistance under any government program … for low and moderate income housing that was occupied or under construction [during] the report period…”, (b) “rental housing occupied by persons receiving rental assistance” under federal or state housing assistance programs, (c) “ownership housing or housing currently financed” by federal or state housing authorities, and (d) “properties with deeds containing covenants or restrictions that require such dwelling units be sold or rented at or below prices that will preserve the units as affordable housing … for families whose incomes are less than or equal to 80% of area median income.” It was under the latter provision that Avalon was able to build its 100-unit rental property on the 10-acre heights across from Ring’s End in South Wilton two decades ago using the provisions of Sec. 8-30g to avoid multiple elements of the usual P&Z regulatory approval process.

We have an added advantage on this score in having Will Haskell as our state senator. He has the ear of those in his party who form the majority in our legislature and hold the governorship and likely will do so after these elections, too. That’s a big plus for our town and our region. We know his views are highly regarded there because, despite his relative youth, he is clearly on top of the issues and very bright and articulate, as all of us who’ve heard him speak and seen him in action know.

But hiding our heads in the sand or claiming that affordable housing will only bring the (dreaded by some) “them” into our community is not going to advance the ball, either from the practical standpoint of getting the best result for Wilton from state government (including especially our state legislature), or from the standpoint of doing the right thing on more profound levels. The latter has thankfully been the spirit of Wilton evident in the over three decades that I’ve lived here. We’re a can-do community that cares a lot about the most pressing issues for our nation and the world as well as locally and about doing the best we can to address them.

Right now for our state and our country, the issue of the availability of affordable housing is exactly that type of pressing issue. We can meet it head-on with creative ideas for providing it right here in Wilton, or we can retreat into not-in-my-backyard thinking. However, the latter approach will only come to haunt us in future years when our reactive circling of the wagons will do nothing to save us from requirements for change that are not of our own making and will likely not be to our liking, coming from other directions.

Stephen Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.