The Housing Authority rears its head again in an ongoing quest to fulfill its mission of developing low-cost housing in Greenwich, this time with the resubmission for Senior Citizens housing at McKinney Terrace at the corner of the Post Road and Western Junior Highway. As usual, the real dynamism isn’t in the planning, but in fact in the very obvious symbolism.
My real belief is that an overwhelming amount of people in Greenwich support the idea of having a safe and convenient place for the teachers, firemen and the like to live, without having to commute from Sherman or (fact) East Hampton NY, as one fireman does. I don’t think that many people really think that if you run out of money, you have to forfeit your Greenwich pass and move on to Stamford and beyond – especially if you are older.
Its two things, economics and status. As far as economics go, Byram residents have a point which is why do all new plans seem to be construction in Byram or Pemberwick? If these neighborhoods get tarred as “where the poor people live”, regardless of the high quality of the future residents, then this part of town becomes ‘lesser’ Greenwich, property values sink, people get hurt. If there was a real concerted effort to spread the load all over town – if someone would propose something, anything, in the three districts without affordable housing (District 6 Old Greenwich, District 2, Belle Haven and my neighborhood in South Cos Cob, and District 10, Northwest backcountry), perhaps there would be a sense that the Housing Authority, or the Town or whomever is really responsible for this kind of work, is pushing an even proposition and not limiting or diminishing neighborhoods.
At least that’s the theory.
The other, and more difficult issue to tackle is status. In my observation, many people treat Greenwich as a status label, a habitation brand name, a credential to the world of the upscale and better. I’ve seen it in action. My wife started to receive promotions at her last job only about the time they figured out that Cos Cob was in fact Greenwich – as if it made her a more worthy person. The development of affordable, senior, low cost, whatever-you-name-it-it-doesn’t-have-Peacock-kitchens housing in that town doesn’t quite jibe with that image. Its not right, its not fair, its not pervasive, but its there. If you wanted a semi-rural New England village (of 62,000 people), you certainly don’t want multifamily housing invading your dream.
What do these two issues have in common when it comes to the development of new housing units? Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the poor guy, fear of the ugly building, fear of losing money, fear of losing YOUR town, fear of being marginalized, fear of change. And fear trumps a good heart, a sensible decision, concern for your neighbor and a healthy, economically diverse community. The hard-hearted, myopic folks who think Greenwich is only for those who can afford it are there, but in the deep minority – and I’d like to see how many want to show the door to their friends thay thought might never lose the millions they did in the past year on Wall Street. The rest of us think - and know - that a sensible affordable housing plan is essential to our future.
Its not going to be the Housing Authority – they are a private company accountable only to their Board whose job is to build and maintain affordable housing. this is the law for all 169 towns in the State. What we need is leadership, direction, focus and, above all, trust. Where is it going to come from? Plus, since State law is very friendly to affordable housing, its not out of the question that we get a plan imposed on us if we don’t get our act together as a community.