8-30g Panel Offers Affordable Housing Insights

The threat of snow closed the Westport Library early yesterday, forcing the much-anticipated 8-30g panel to Zoom.

There, nearly 200 Westporters got a cold dose of reality. The innocuously named state regulation, which mandates affordable housing percentages for municipalities — and used by developers to gain approval for much larger market-rate projects — is here.

It’s not going away.

But, the panelists noted, Westport can take proactive steps to mitigate some of its most onerous effects.

The evening — organized by Representative Town Meeting member Nancy Kail, and led by RTM moderator Jeff Wieser — began with a bit of history.

The first 8-30g proposal came 25 years ago, in 1998: 10 units on Cross Street, 3 of which were deed-restricted for 40 years as affordable.

Others followed: 41 units on a small parcel at the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North corner (a rare denial in court). 81 units on Lincoln Street. 19 units at Morningside Drive North.

122 Wilton Road — site of a proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh. The Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial was eventually upheld in court.

The infamous Saugatuck Summit development, which began as 55 townhouses on 10 building lots, ballooned to 187 units, and ultimately was settled at 157.

1177 Post Road East — across from Greens Farms Elementary School — was a “friendly” 8-30 go, without battles between the developer, town officials and neighbors.

All told, Westport now has 32 affordable units, created by 8-30g legislation. When Summit Saugatuck and other projects are completed, there will be 108.

Overall — including units built before 1990, when 8-30g was enacted — there are 390 units deemed affordable.

When projects currently in the pipeline are completed, approximately 6% of Westport’s housing stock will be affordable.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg called the 8-30g regulation “a blunt instrument.” But, he noted, Westport has done “a great job. We’ve built affordable housing, and we’ve embraced an inclusive housing plan.” He called housing “a national crisis.”

Yet the town’s 4-year moratorium on 8-30g proposals expires this Saturday (March 4). At that point, town attorney Ira Bloom said, developers can file applications.

One is already in the works, for 30 Maple Lane in Greens Farms. “The gate will open,” he predicted.

30 Maple Lane — between Greens Farms Road and New Creek Road, near the Greens Farms train station — is the site of an 8-30g application that may be filed soon.

“But Westport is not alone,” Bloom added. “There’s an intense focus by developers on Fairfield County.”

There is, he noted, a true need for affordable housing in the area. But developers also use 8-30 for their own ends.

The regulation makes it almost impossible for municipalities to prevail. Towns have lost 75% of all cases that have gone to court, Bloom said.

And “developers know it.”

Local officials who turn down an 8-30g application must prove their decision was driven by “a significant public interest.” However, traffic, even safety, are not always reasons for denial. (Wetlands can be a reason, however.)

“The process does not make it easy to negotiate once an 8-30g application is filed,” Bloom said.

A questioner asked whether the 8-30g formula includes beds in homeless shelters, like the Gillespie Center. The answer: No.

Units at The Saugatuck — the Bridge Street co-op limited to to buyers below an income threshold — also do not count for 8-30g.

Though its apartments are income-restricted, The Saugatuck co-op on Bridge Street is not included in Westport’s housing stock for 8-30g purposes. (Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)

Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin believes the town can reach 10%. But, she explained, “it will take collaboration between town boards, and residents getting behind it.

“Westport believes in affordable housing. What we don’t want is density, or building on wetlands.”

The RTM can play a key role, she told the Zoom audience.

She urged the legislative body to create an affordable housing fund. Using town-owned land, developers could built low-density projects.

One example: Linxweiler House, on Post Road East between Fresh Market and McDonald’s. The historic home there could be renovated, and moved closer to the road. Cluster housing could be built behind it. Homes with Hope could provide supportive services to residents — who would have access to public transportation, almost at their door.

Linxweiler House, on Post Road East,

Another possibility, which town officials have explored for several years: the state-owned Department of Transportation maintenance facility on Post Road East by Parish Road West, just east of Walgreens.

Of course, even with funding, finding willing developers is not easy. Developers make much more money on market-rate housing than on affordable units.

It was an informative Zoom evening. Nearly all 200 attendees stayed on to the end.

They — town officials, residents, those who hope to become residents, and developers — will follow the next steps in the 8-30g saga closely.

Beginning Saturday, when Westport’s moratorium officially ends.

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20 responses to “8-30g Panel Offers Affordable Housing Insights

  1. There seems to be an opening for a not-for-profit developer to partner with towns to develop 100% affordable housing and head off rapacious, opportunist developers. The town will need to raise a fund to pay for these developments on town land and this will need public support. Private 830-g development means way more density with no local control with only 30% of new units counting toward meeting the mandated affordable housing need. Building 70% market rate and luxury units will not get us where we need to be with affordable housing without destroying the character (yes, the C word) of the town. A lack of luxury dwellings is not the problem we are trying (or mandated) to solve!

    Perhaps there are start-up developers looking to serve this new market? This is a wake up call to stop stonewalling this issue and find a strategic solution that serves the interests of residents and addresses the shortage of affordable housing.

    I am convinced that publicly funded 100% affordable housing is a real solution to address this issue and head off this giveaway to developers.

  2. All the development and it’s impact notwithstanding, it will still be very difficult for someone to get a low income apartment as hundreds and hundreds apply. It is impossible now and has been for a ling time, as the wait is years away for an available apartment. But I understand the concept of profit for the developers

  3. I agree with Jonathan that 8-30g is a blunt instrument. It is however well intentioned and instructive. So why not amend it to provide a graduated system whereby, for example, if a town has 3% of its housing stock affordable it receives a one year moratorium, 5% generates a two year moratorium and so on. (Those numbers are just for explanatory purposes).
    By so doing we would afford towns the breathing room to address the affordable housing shortage before being hit over the head by a blunt instrument

  4. I thought it was a good presentation. It’s unfortunate that given the 8-30g law was passed in 1989, most affluent communities in Fairfield County chose to ignore it, thereby exacerbating the problem while ignoring the law. Almost as if both the law and the housing crisis could be magically willed into disappearing. I assume by now you are getting my point; the law is not the bad guy in this scenario.

    This community, along with many other wealthy towns around America (MA has 40-B, their version of our 8-30g) have refused to make room for multi-family residential development in their zoning manuals. The economics in this nation have changed, we all know this, student debt and stagnant wages have made housing for younger generations extremely challenging. Now we are in a crisis situation. Time to react.

    My hope is; individuals with experience and understanding of the affordable housing issues will help craft intelligent solutions. My fear is; politicians will latch onto ill-conceived and ineffective policy changes designed to appease their constituents who oppose the law, because; “they don’t want to be told what to do”, (even though they’ve been given 33 years to address the issue) rather than help solve our housing problems. My hope is the former not the latter.

    • Well said Joseph! I worked for FHA for NY State, which later became part if HUD in the mid 1980s. I worked with NY State’s 80/20 program. I will say, at the time NY was doing a great job providing affordable housing for many people, and they are still light years ahead of CT. I’m fairly new to the area and was surprised to hear the low number of low income units available in Westport and Fairfield County, although I should have realized given conversations I’ve heard from residents here. Rich communities don’t want or care enough about this issue to do anything about it. They don’t walk past homeless people at the train station or on Main Street each day. Out of sight out of mind. Developers are out to make as much money as possible, weather it’s through affordable housing programs that benegit tgeir bottom line, by buy buying up small beach homes and tearing them down to build mega mansions, or by building the community proposed at Saugatuck, which will clearly have many negative affects on the environment, and more. The real issue is that most fail to appreciate the importance of diversity in a community, they don’t want these apartments in their backyards. Yes, developers do use the laws to game the system, but as Joesph said so intelligently, Westport and many other wealthy communities turned a blind eye to affordable housing decades ago. Developers in Westport get away with lots of things. Houses are torn down every day and huge homes are built, which affects the quality of life of neighbors and does long lasting harm to the environmental. Take a took around the Compo Beach neighborhood, for example. There’s lots of money being made there supported by wealthy buyers, even though it puts strain on the waterfront and wildlife. Yes they pay high taxes, but money does not change the environmental impact. Yet, when it come to affordable housing people find all kinds of reasons not to support it.

  5. Chip Stephens SHS 73

    Folks 8-30 G is a horribly written state statute that was written by a law firm that benefits developers and legals in fighting local boards. It results in reality few “affordable units” compared to full market value units. The argument is we are providing affordable housing BUT we have to make money and deserve and need a financial gain,
    The worst fact is that it is a self-defeating law by design. Every time a project is approved and built the affordably denominator is going the wrong way as the total units increases and the affordable units do not sway the needed final percentage (affordable/total living units in town) you will never get to 10 percent.
    This also results in projects that pay less intown taxes for protection, fire, schools, and other town services as rentals do not pay taxes at the same rate as single family homes when considering # persons per property.
    We all want housing for all, Westport has the biggest heart and pays the Yoman’s share in taxes to the state to support needs of others.
    The only way this will be rectified will be for towns to work together to push back on this unfair and destructive state mandate, Westport cannot do it alone and there are many other towns faced with this. It will take leadership to reframe this discussion and work a game plan to house the needy in a more efficient way.
    Don’t like my words? check out the New York Times and San Francisco chronicle and many city leaders and politicians who have railed against this model as being wasteful and wrong. It does not deliver affordable housing in the numbers in more efficient models where the projects are closer to 100 percent affordable.
    JMHO as a former Westport P and Z member, chair and secretary that misses you all.

  6. Chip hit the nail on the head. The law is outdated and does not meet the needs of all fairly and equally.

    Units after seven years do not count, yet they are occupied.

    Senior citizens only count for half point, so the law says they’re only half a person, which is age discriminative when each full unit that is not age restricted counts as a full point.

    Anything built before 1990 does not count, yet we have doubled both 1655 Post Road West & Hales Court…and they do not count.

    To say that these units do not count is a slap in the face to those who do live and occupy those units, because they do count. They do count as members of society, and so do their taxes along with their contributions to their demographics, largely diverse.

    Housing is for all, to also say we need more diversity so let’s build more affordable housing is also in itself discriminative on many levels.

    The law plain in simple, is outdated. Developers win, and that’s it. More housing, but more businesses moving out of CT and struggling to make a living/profit.

    Repeal 8-30g to include preexisting units before 1990 that have been updated or added to, and instead of seven years, make them ten years. OR, the points are renewed when a new tenant takes over that unit.

  7. I’m so glad that developers will be forced to include low income housing. These isolated bubble communities like Westport, Darien, etc are a horrible way to teach our kids the value of diversity, extending a hand to the less fortunate, empathy, and others. I also don’t understand the issue around density. Denser parts of town with sidewalks will make downtown and Saugatuck so much more lively and peopled, while increasingly walkable, keeping Post Road less subject to traffic. Westport needs sidewalks, a more varied and interesting population, and areas of live/work/shop zones. To hell with developers’ greed!

    • If you think increasing diversity will occur by affordable housing units, then that in itself is discriminative and socioeconomically racist. You’re right, we should be ashamed of our equitable and diverse town we have now just to turn it into a city stacked on top of each other.

      • William Strittmatter

        “equitable and diverse town”….Not sure if you were being serious or sarcastic but couldn’t stop laughing for 10 minutes after reading that. Seriously. Ten minutes.

        Wait…gotta go…I’m losing it again.

  8. Let’s not forget this public comment from a true Westport treasure;

    The commission’s discussion was couched in what some would regard as code words and never directly addressed race or income. Chip Stephens, a Republican planning and zoning commissioner, voted against the plan, declaring, “To me, it’s too much density. It’s putting too much in a little area. To me, this is ghettoizing Westport.”


  9. Yes, 8-30g is poorly concieved written and implemented. That usually always happens when government local or national try to create socially engineered laws to solve complex socioeconomic issues. When you add diversity issues into the mix you create and suffer even more complexity and difficulty.
    Why must Westport be forced by 8-30g to meet the difficult goals when so many other towns and communities in Connecticut are not being held to the same %’s, time tables and results.
    As much as us Westport residents want to make life and living here more affordable we cannot escape the fact that Connecticut is dying a slow death of years of poor state management and foresight. We are losing state population, viable industry, businesses, jobs and a lack of growing skilled workforce. These problems are so much larger and damaging to Westport and Connecticut than the attainment of 8-30g goals!
    Wake up fellow residents of Westport, our very lovely community and lifestyle will in the future will be decimated by the problems such as these. Most of the affordable housing created will be vacant as well as many of the “Mc Mansions” so many seemed worried about!
    It’s time to see the forest for the trees!

  10. Krista
    Talking about serious problems is not eating cake!
    You are more lost in the trees than I suspected.

    • It’s a phrase, Ray, that points out an unwillingness to understand the gap between the “haves” and “have—nots”.
      If government is not involved in easing the tension, who/what is?

      Meanwhile, continue focusing on your “lifestyle”.

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