Stone McGuigan: Support Affordable Housing

Submitted by Janet Stone McGuigan, Greenwich Democratic Selectperson

Connecticut municipalities have been paying attention to affordable housing of late, and that’s a good thing.  All towns need diverse housing stock to thrive, and while Greenwich already has a diverse housing stock, it does need more affordable, workforce, senior, accessible and starter family housing.  A balanced vision for Greenwich is articulately expressed in the Town’s 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development.    

What’s prompted this affordable housing discussion, however, is the proliferation of development proposals falling under the State statute 8-30g. 

8-30g overrides municipal zoning regulations and permits developments that are 30 percent affordable according to the statute’s formula and don’t present health or safety risks, the idea being that a developer can use the profits from the market rate units to offset any losses from the affordable units.  

I won’t describe 8-30g further since so much has already been said.  But I concur with the arguments that most of the proposals are too large for the locations in question.   

We’re a capitalist society and as such we depend on the market to address our housing challenges.  8-30g was supposed to present a market-based incentive to do this but it has demonstrated its flaws.  Greenwich has made its unhappiness with the statute’s unintended consequences clear in testimony to Hartford and most recently through the Representative Town Meeting’s Sense of the Meeting Room resolution regarding 8-30g.  Reform of the statute, and/or properly crediting Greenwich with affordable housing units not currently counted under the statute would be helpful but is hardly assured.  

At any rate, now it’s important that support for affordable housing not get lost.  Supporting the redevelopment of Quarry Knoll, a development of Greenwich Communities (formerly the Greenwich Housing Authority) is a good example. Without Town funding, Greenwich Communities would like to create some market rate units to pay for the redevelopment.  But unlike a profit-driven developer, Greenwich Communities can consider a project that is well above 30 percent affordable. 

Another way forward is the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, recently approved by the RTM.  When developers accept funding, in the form of loans or other financial assistance, the development comes under the rules of assisted housing rather than affordable housing, and the project can be scaled down and still remain economically viable.  The Trust Fund won’t be funded with Town money; it’s anticipated that most of its funding will be from private contributions. 

Right now the only seed money that’s being proposed is a $1.1 million allocation from the American Recue Plan Act, down from the original proposal  of $1.8 million.  As most of us are only too aware, that’s only plus or minus the median price of a single family home in Greenwich.  Other towns assess fees on developers to fund their trust funds but Greenwich doesn’t seem to have the appetite for this.  Should the Trust Fund not prove to be up to the task of creating more affordable housing, the next approach is tax abatements.  This approach would lower the cost of each housing unit.  Existing units could be converted to affordable units, eliminating the need to create new market rate units. 

In a recent exchange of letters to the editor the question was raised whether housing is a right.  It’s my view that affordable housing isn’t a right, because a right is granted to all and must be blind to need or any other attribute.  Therefore housing is an entitlement that good governments equitably provide to all in need.  But calling affordable housing a right or entitlement doesn’t help us move forward.  Figuring out how we can best harness market approaches does.  

An affordable housing plan is scheduled to go before the Board of Selectmen in June and I look forward to supporting the excellent work of our Town’s volunteer leaders and professional staff.  I don’t want to wait for April’s National Volunteer Week to appreciate how fortunate Greenwich is to have the volunteers we have.

As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve this Town,

Janet Stone McGuigan
Greenwich Selectperson