New Fairfield’s elderly population grows along with need for affordable housing
NEW FAIRFIELD — With a rising senior citizen population in town, zoning officials are considering establishing a multi-family district for affordable elderly housing.
The New Fairfield Zoning Commission started exploring the idea back in July, and recently got some input from Senior Services director Kathy Hull and Commission on Aging members Anita Brown and Maureen Salerno.
“In step with the state’s demographic, New Fairfield’s population of active seniors is growing with the concurrent need of affordable elderly housing,” said Brown during the zoning commission’s Sept. 2 meeting.
According to Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging, more than one-third of Connecticut residents are over the age of 50, and the state’s elderly population is projected to see a 57-percent increase between 2010 and 2040.
In New Fairfield — which has an estimated population of 13,878, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 Population Estimates — the state’s aging commission estimates nearly 18 percent of residents are 65 years or older.
Brown said zoning town property for affordable elderly housing would be a “proactive” way to address the senior housing need, and the town’s Commission on Aging has found “both data and anecdotal information to support this step.”
The town’s aging commission conducted a senior needs assessment last October and found that 89 percent of respondents would be interested in affordable housing and 91 percent would be in favor of affordable elderly housing even if they did not need it themselves, Salerno said.
“I think you’ll be very surprised at the number of our seniors who have very low income and are living in New Fairfield,” she said, noting that 51 percent of respondents had an annual income in the $48,000 to $58,000 range.
Salerno said there are several pieces of property in town that she believes would be “very, very good” for affordable senior housing.
Hull is not only the town’s senior services director, but she’s lived in New Fairfield for 30 years — and as a resident, she said, she’s “very much in favor” of affordable senior housing.
Not only does she have neighbors and friends in town who could use it, Hull said, but as senior services director, she would rather not have to refer residents to other towns due to New Fairfield’s lack of affordable housing.
“I would love to say that our community has something like this that is affordable for our seniors who need it,” Hull said. “I feel it’s time, and it’s very important for all of us.”
New Fairfield has two multifamily housing developments for the elderly — The Birches off Saw Mill Road and The Woods at Dunham Pond — of which a portion of the units are considered affordable.
While those condos “certainly fill a need” for those 55 and older who can afford them, Hull said, there are still a lot of people who can’t.
“I would love to see rentals that people can get some government assistance with if they need it,” she said.
Zoning Commission Chair John Moran said New Fairfield’s regulations allow the commission to rezone town-owned property for a multi-family district for the elderly, and he believes it’s “a good time” for the town to look at affordable housing.
“We do have regulations in our town saying what distance it can be from the center of town, and there’s only one area, really, right now that comes into that area — and that’s off Saw Mill Road,” Moran said, adding that he’s open to other suggestions.
Hull mentioned a 38-acre parcel of town-owned land behind Meeting House Hill School that had been considered for an elderly apartment complex several years ago, but got a lot of pushback from residents.
“They were not anywhere in favor of it at all,” Moran said about residents’ opposition at the time.
Salerno said there was “a lot of misinformation presented” back then, but “the property is ideal.”
The Zoning Commission will continue its discussion on affordable elderly housing at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, meetings are being held virtually via Zoom.