ERICKSON: Local Control Requires Local Action

Submitted by Laura Erickson, Democratic Candidate for Greenwich First Selectperson

It’s election season, and it’s important that voters are aware of the important issues facing our town and where candidates stand so they can cut through the political hyperbole before casting their vote.

Housing and over development are topical issues. Here’s the bottom line. We need to preserve local control over our zoning, but preserving local control means we need to take action. Talking and testifying alone is not enough; we need to also start doing.

Greenwich has a shortage of affordable and moderate (also known as workforce) housing. Demand outstrips supply and rents are skyrocketing. Per the latest Greenwich United Way needs assessment, 34% of residents rent their homes and of those, 24% spend more than 50% of their income on housing. Our teachers, first responders and also many other town employees increasingly cannot afford to live in Greenwich.

Per the needs assessment, 20% of households in Greenwich have household income under $50,000. Almost 15% of our neighbors are at or near the federal poverty level which for a family of 4 is $30,000. I am listening to seniors on fixed incomes who simply cannot afford the drastic increases in rent at some of the private apartment complexes and are afraid they are going to be forced out of their homes. We have a moral obligation to address this issue.

Most of our affordable housing is under the auspices of Greenwich Communities, which according to their latest audit (2019) posted on the website operates slightly over 1,200 units housing 2,400 residents.

According to Sam Romeo, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, this is 5.4% of about 5.8% of the Town’s total affordable housing stock.

Mr. Romeo recently appeared before the Board of Selectman sketching out a proposal to develop 48 units of affordable housing using air rights at a Town owned parcel on Strickland Road used for parking at the Cos Cob train station. (The proposal was not on the agenda for MI referral and there is no vote expected in the near future.)

There is existing state law, referred to as 8-30g, which is over 30 years old, that allows developers to skirt local planning and zoning regulations if fewer than 10% of a town’s housing units qualify as affordable. Developers are using this statute in Greenwich to propose high density and out of scale developments in our residential neighborhoods.

We have existing plans and tools at our disposal to protect local control. The Plan of Conservation and Development recognizes the need for more affordable housing. There is an Affordable Housing Plan adopted by the RTM which offers a framework for solutions.

We have established an Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) which currently has 6 contingent commitments to developers of proposed 8-30g developments in exchange for either a reduction in their development’s size or an increase in the number of affordable units.

Additionally, there are discussions with the developer of a project that initially presented with 456 units to pay a fee in lieu of adding affordable housing units to that proposed project thus reducing the density of the project by over 40%. Any such fee in lieu would add meaningful dollars to the Trust Fund which could be deployed under the terms of AHTF ordinance to provide gap financing to private and/or non-profit affordable housing developers for projects that are appropriate for a different location.

The AHTF was established with $1.1 million of federal ARPA money. The BET conditioned $450,000 on the receipt of private donations. Now that the AHTF is making progress, that condition should be released. Private donations can still be solicited and are welcome; however, the full federal grant should be made available.

We need to utilize carrots, not sticks, to increase our percentage of affordable housing. We need to inventory excess or underutilized town or state parcels. We should seriously consider providing tax incentives to encourage responsible development that moves the needle closer to 10%. And we should expedite and streamline the approval and permitting processes, reducing costs to help bring down rents.

Once we have demonstrated progress, our State delegation in Hartford will be empowered to continue to push back on onerous state legislation bolstered with data and evidence that Greenwich has local and tangible solutions that work. It’s up to us, and if I am elected First Selectperson, this issue will be of highest priority.

Laura Erickson
Candidate for First Selectperson