The Housing Task Force, which has been meeting at 8 a.m. every other Wednesday morning since March, is currently in the process of hearing status reports from its subgroups. These groups are engaged in a review of the housing action items outlined in the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).
At this week’s meeting, task force members heard status reports from the zoning regulations, transit-oriented and Housing Authority subgroups.
This review and research into different aspects of affordable housing has been a learning process for many of the Housing Task Force members.”It certainly has been an education for me,” said Mike Warner at yesterday’s meeting. Warner, an RTM representative to the task force, gave the status report for the zoning regulations subgroup.
Referring to POCD action item #3.11 – consider zoning regulations to require a percentage of multifamily development units as moderate income housing – Warner said there was general agreement among the members of his subgroup that “the town should propagate regulations with incentives for developers.” However, there was no consensus on specifics such as whether or not “it was viable or workable for our town to have developers contribute to a housing trust fund.” There was also a question as to whether or not “it makes sense for the town to endorse a homogeneous subgroup,” such as seniors, or young professionals.
Bill Finger, BET representative to the task force, gave the status report for the transit-oriented subgroup, which met with Town Planner Diane Fox and considered affordable housing in relation to train stations and bus routes. The town’s train stations, except for the Riverside station, lend themselves to mixed use development, according to Finger. The boundary for development is defined in terms of a 15 minute walk to the station. Subgroup co-chair, Ken Rogozinski, a community representative to the task force, said that some type of mixed use will most likely be necessary, as “the numbers don’t work otherwise.”
The focal point for affordable housing development is probably the Post Road, Finger said. He speculated that housing development along the Post Road would not present the same issues that it would in other parts of town. It would be spread out and not in any one neighborhood.
Noting the high cost of real estate in Greenwich, Finger said that it was difficult to provide enough of an incentive for private developers to produce affordable housing. Therefore, the use of town-owned land is a critical element in making such housing possible in Greenwich. Given the importance of town-owned land in creating affordable housing, Finger said that members of the Housing Task Force need to begin discussions with the Town Properties Task Force. He also suggested that public-private partnerships might be the answer. Task force chair, Nancy Brown, agreed, saying that public-private partnerships were an important focus.
Bernadette Settlemeyer, the Housing Authority representative to the task force, referred to POCD action item #3.7 – encourage subsidized housing in areas that are served by transit and owned by HATG - and pointed out that enhanced development of existing Housing Authority properties is consistent with the suggestions made by the transit-oriented subgroup.
The Housing Authority has a plan for such enhanced development at its Quarry Knoll and McKinney Terrace properties, but does not yet have the votes on the current Board of Selectmen to move this plan forward.
Settlemeyer gave the report for the Housing Authority subgroup. She said that before addressing the 5 POCD action items relating to the Housing Authority, the subgroup felt it necessary to educate itself regarding Housing Authority operations and the developments the agency owns and manages. To this end, Settlemeyer arranged a tour of several HATG developments to which all task force members were invited.
Settlemeyer’s report provided the occasion for a lively discussion regarding the Housing Authority.
Margarita Alban, the Planning and Zoning Commission representative to the task force, described the Housing Authority as a successful model. “This is a model that works,” she said.
But task force member, Kathy Derene, a community representative, disagreed. She called the tour of the Housing Authority properties “eye opening” and said she was “appalled” by the condition of the buildings, particularly at Armstrong Court. “There is a beautiful garden in the back,” she said of Armstrong Court, “And a filthy hallway in the front.”
Alban held to her position. “I was very impressed, relative to my expectations,” she said.
Other task force members pointed out that all Housing Authorities face problems in finding funding to do upgrades and major capital improvements, particularly with aging buildings such as Armstrong Court. Settlemeyer noted that the Armstrong Court stair towers are scheduled to be painted using Community Development Block Grant money, but that painting has been delayed until the necessary lead remediation is done in the stair towers, also with Community Development Block Grant money.
“We live in a very privileged world,” Alban said. “When we move to another world we need to adjust,” the implication being that we shouldn’t apply unrealistic standards where the circumstances are less privileged.
Settlemeyer disagreed and suggested that the maintenance standard for the Housing Authority should be raised. Although the Greenwich Housing Authority is a high performing agency by HUD standards, Settlemeyer said that the government standard is lower than what ours should be. “We should have a standard that is not different from that for market rate housing,” she said.
Brown cautioned about generalizing from one stairwell in one building at Armstrong Court. At the same time, she said that the way families live today is very different than it was in the 1940′s and 1950′s, the era in which Armstrong Court was built. “This housing has become outmoded,” she said.
Alban repeatedly called for research leading to a discussion of “best practices.” She said that it was important for the task force to look at existing models to see what works and what doesn’t.
In response to Alban’s call for a discussion of “best practices,” Settlemeyer distributed an op-ed article on Stamford’s approach to affordable housing written by then Stamford mayor, Dannel Malloy,which Settlemeyer sees as “a very, very exciting story” and a model for what can be done. Settlemeyer said that she will set up a meeting with Stamford.
“There are models,” Brown said, “And the closest one is Stamford.” At the same time, Brown cautioned that Stamford is a city and speculated that “if we just look at Stamford, people will dismiss it.” She suggested that the task force look at other communities, in particular Fairfield and West Hartford, which are often considered demographically comparable to Greenwich.
Settlemeyer disagreed, saying that Greenwich already has more affordable housing than most other towns in Connecticut and is more advanced in its thinking .
“There’s passion here,” Alban said during the discussion. “That’s good,” she said. “We’ve got passion. That’s important.”