Affordable Housing Committee: Time for a reboot?

Reinvigorating the Affordable Housing Committee is on the town’s to-do list, and the selectmen have decided to reconsider the mission the group will be given, before they begin interviewing potential members.

“My take-away tonight,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said, “we’ll put off interviews until after the holidays, to allow us to really get into the charge of the committee.”

“We probably do need a little bit of conversation before we interview people,” Selectman Steve Zemo agreed.

In a rambling discussion Tuesday night, the selectmen conveyed their sense that affordable housing is something the town needs to address, but it’s a complex issue with no obvious consensus or path for action.

“It’s a very important issue with a lot of legs,” Zemo said.

One goal is allowing younger people to live in town — including those who’ve grown up here.

“To get people to stay here,” Marconi said. “There are jobs. We need some place for them to live.”

There are many ways the issue could be addressed.

“I’m hearing more and more about dormitory-style apartments,” Marconi said. “Do we need smaller houses?”

But he recognized that many townspeople are instinctively skeptical of more development — more construction, more condos and apartments.

“No one wants anything,” he said.

Marconi recommended that people make their thoughts on these subjects count by filling out the survey being done by the consultants helping update the town plan for the Planning and Zoning Commission.

It’s on the town’s website ( under “Planning and Zoning” in the “departments” listing — there’s a red stripe at the top of the page that says “POCD survey read more.”

The selectmen seemed doubtful that town-built housing can realistically be viewed as a means to hold off the state law 8-30g that is used by developers to get around zoning limits on density.

If 10% of a town’s housing meets state “affordable” standards, it’s exempt from 8-30g. The 2010 Census lists 9,420 housing units in Ridgefield. And 276, about 3%, meet state affordability rules — meaning 660 more are needed.

There’s also the question of whether the reconstituted committee will be simply to make policy recommendations, or will eventually undertake housing construction projects as the last committee attempted to do.

“To me, the next great divide is: the policy you’re all talking about, versus bricks and mortar,” Zemo said.

The selectmen expect to further discuss the affordable housing committee’s charge at their next two Wednesday night meetings: Nov. 28 at 6:30 and Dec. 12 at 7:30, both in town hall.

Applicants interested

Marconi has already heard from people interested in serving on the committee.

“I’ve had three interviews, with a fourth scheduled, and we continue to look for interested parties,” Marconi told The Press Nov. 5.

“We have a previous member who’s very interested, a real estate agent who’s very interested from that perspective. I’ve interviewed someone who has worked for a housing authority — not in Ridgefield — who has extensive background and experience. So at this point we have three great members who will be coming forward to the Board of Selectmen for interviews.”

The committee has a long history, but sat empty with no membership for the last four years.

The Board of Selectmen reaffirmed its interest in getting the committee up and running again on Oct. 10, deciding to seek candidates to refill the committee — which was never formally disbanded.

“I think it represents a certain perspective and it’s important for the community to have that perspective represented,” Zemo said.

Marconi recalled the committee’s mass resignation in 2014 after the selectmen didn’t include any affordable housing in the plans they were pursuing at that point for the Schlumberger property.

“Everyone resigned,” he said. “They were upset with the board.”

Marconi confirmed that former committee chairman Dave Goldenberg was interested and supporting the effort to restart.

Goldenberg organized a meeting in June, seeking people who might be interested in serving.

“The Ridgefield Affordable Housing Committee, dormant since 2014, is planning to reconstitute,” he said then.

“The Affordable Housing Committee ... helped lead to Sunrise Cottage, The Meadows on Prospect Ridge, revised accessory apartment laws and more...

“The town’s own plans call for promoting a diverse housing stock, but the market alone will not provide it,” Goldenberg wrote. “There are many things we can do to address the growing need, and we’re looking forward to getting back into gear.”

People interested in serving on the committee may contact 203-431-2774.