Our Friends and Neighbors

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.

Categories: General
Frank Farricker

5 Responses

  1. MJ says:

    Dear Mr. Farricker : Your article about fear keeping affordable housing out was good. I am a resident in the backcountry of Stamford and I found one little problem with your article. It was the part stating that if one runs out of money one needs to move to Stamford or beyond. Please note that not all of Stamford is low income as your article suggests to the uninformed. The shoreline and backcountry has some very fine upscale homes and our property taxes here rival any of the surrounding towns. You can’t be low income to live in most parts of Stamford, but the city is trying to incorporate affordable housing. I feel that if you run out of money to live in Greenwich, Stamford is not such a great option.

  2. Elise Hingson says:

    Fear is at the root of this issue. Actually, fear and greed. And probably elitism. Fear, Greed and Elitism, I would say.

    Since it is not a matter of “if” affordable housing is to be created, we should be taking charge of “how” we want it to be created. We should as citizens be very concerned about how the State imposes anything on our town.

    ~ Elise Hingson

  3. Tom Mellana says:

    There’s no question that Greenwich’s track record toward building affordable housing is terrible. Off the top of my head, I believe the percentage of housing stock in town considered affordable is half or even less of the standard set by the state.

    I also agree that fear and concern for status play a part in the long-held resistance toward creating affordable housing in certain parts of town.

    But as I see it, there is another problem as well, and I don’t know what the answer is to solving it. Those areas that you mention are some of the most expensive real estate in the country. My question is, what has to happen to make building affordable housing on land that is so expensive possible? Do we need an uncommonly philanthropic developer to come along? An infusion of town dollars to subsidize it? Some kind of public/private deal?

    It’s a hurdle the town must work on clearing at the same time that leaders of good will fight to counter the fear of the ‘other’ that has conspired to keep affordable housing out of certain communities for so long.

    Another possibility is to work to build higher-density housing in central Greenwich and have a larger part of that deemed affordable. But high-density would counter the philosophy that has guided this town for ages.

    In any case, thanks for spurring this discussion. It’s one of the most important ones the town needs to have.

  4. Townie says:

    I think this Housing Authority has shown that it is out of touch with reality by their actions these past few months. And Byram does not deserve more housing, time to consider another section of town, the seniors need to be located near services that they can access.

    FYI, I do not live in Byram but in Riverside.

  5. bowman says:

    Hi Frank,
    Glad to have you aboard blogging. Our leaders lose credibility in taking away some of the rare open space in Byram when we spent millions buying property in Cos Cob – actually claiming that it would save the town money because if it was developed, the school kids it would bring would cost too much for the town to bear (see Pomerance documents). All this while every available space in Byram was developed with condos covering every available inch. No cry for the town to buy any of that land to save open space, even though the condos bring more school kids per square foot than 2-acre zoned land in Cos Cob.

    Someone tell me why we had to spend millions for Pomerance open space and nothing for that in Byram and I’ll support McKinney Terrace development.

    Again, great to see you blogging and I’m sure you’ll bring more readers to all of us.