Some say Ridgefield can’t meet state’s affordable housing goal. Others don’t want to.

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
Rendering of a previously approved nine-unit affordable housing project at Turner Road and Barnum Place in Ridgefield.

Rendering of a previously approved nine-unit affordable housing project at Turner Road and Barnum Place in Ridgefield.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — Some local officials continue to question the purpose of the mandated affordable housing plan and whether the town can achieve the housing goals set by the state.

If the affordable housing plan was achievable in Ridgefield, “we shouldn’t be here because it would mean the town would be ruined. Period,” said John Katz, member of the Planning and Zoning Commission when officials discussed the plan this week.

The plan has undergone some revisions since its original draft was released in April and includes minor changes such as the deletion of specific references to individual properties and disclaimers stating it’s not a binding agreement and that 2020 data sources were constrained due to the pandemic. This was done in response to feedback from residents and town officials.

Ridgefield is one of about half of Connecticut municipalities that haven’t submitted affordable housing plans to the state by the June 1 deadline.

The plans had to specify how they “intend to increase the number of affordable housing developments,” according to the Western Connecticut Council of Governments’ affordable housing plan website.

The state does not penalize municipalities that did not submit plans by the deadline. The state’s Office of Policy and Management will review the plans, which will be done every five years.

Ridgefield’s new 44-page plan was unanimously approved June 22 by the Affordable Housing Committee for submission to the Board of Selectmen and Planning & Zoning Commission.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he hopes the final plan will be complete by the July 13 Board of Selectmen’s meeting so the selectmen can vote on it.

In a special meeting, members of the town’s Affordable Housing Committee met with the Planning & Zoning Commission, Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance on Wednesday to discuss the proposal.

Affordable Housing Committee Chairman David Goldenberg said the plan has been “condensed” since the earlier draft.

‘Unachievable objective’

During the 90-minute meeting, members of the town boards discussed at length the definition of affordable housing and Ridgefield’s commitment to the state in turning in a plan.

Affordable housing is defined as is housing that costs less than 30 percent of the income of a household earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median income.

Selectman Bob Hebert said, “I think for purposes of this plan, we should be using the definition of affordable housing put out by the state, which means housing that is affordable to people at various percentages depending on contexts — specifically, the household size, bedrooms — the state median income devoting only 30 percent of their income to housing costs including utilities.”

He said the plan “is making representations that 30 percent of the people in Ridgefield are housing-cost burdened. That's not a true reflection of reality.”

While Katz said the town has a “responsibility” to provide many different kinds of housing, including affordable housing, “the idea that Ridgefield will ever achieve a 10 percent (of its units as affordable housing) goal is nonsense. Who the hell are we kidding? And why do we want it? I don't want it.”

He received loud applause.

Selectman Bob Hebert agreed with Katz. “We're trying to meet an unachievable objective of 10 percent,” he said.

Planning & Zoning Commission member Alice Dew said she doesn’t think any small town can achieve 10 percent of its units as affordable housing.

“It's just in big cities because of the infrastructure or the lack thereof in this town as well as other ones about this town’s size,” Dew said. “I think they're (the state is) just asking that the town make an attempt to show that they're trying to accommodate affordable housing, not necessarily reaching a benchmark.”

Selectman Sean Connelly said the town should be realistic with what it says it can accomplish.

“That said, we can make progress ... But I wouldn't want to say that our plan, or any plan at this point, is trying to get to that 10 percent,” Connelly said.

He suggested it would make the most sense to say that as long as the town can establish “meaningful concrete goals” they can “progress” toward, then they shouldn't be exempt from 8-30g.

After the meeting, First Selectman Rudy Marconi told Hearst Connecticut Media that he doesn't think 8-30g is doing what was originally intended.

Section 8-30g of the Connecticut General Statutes is meant to encourage towns with less than 10 percent of their housing stock considered “affordable” to develop more.

Marconi said the intention of 8-30g is “to relieve the cities of the burden of housing and to get people to migrate out to the suburban areas to live in and commute, but you can't just create the housing. It's a one-legged stool. You need transportation,” he said.

CORRECTION: An original version of this article incorrectly reported who may vote on the affordable housing plan on July 13. The plan is expected to be ready for the Board of Selectmen to vote.