Tag Archives: Canal Park

Westport Housing Authority: Little-Known Body Has Big Impact

In 1952, the Hales family sold 14 acres of land to the town. The price: $1.

The Westport Housing Authority had been established a few years earlier. For the first time, it was ready to act.

With state financing the WHA built 40 Cape Cods, between Greens Farms Road and Hillspoint. Hales Court helped ease Westport’s severe postwar housing shortage.

In the nearly 70 years since, the WHA has done much more. Hales Court has nearly doubled in size. There are 93 units at Sasco Creek and Hidden Brook, contiguous sites on Post Road East. And 50 elderly and disabled Westporters live at Canal Park, near downtown.

Yet the Westport Housing Authority remains unknown — or little understood — by most Westporters.

The  official name is the Housing Authority of the Town of Westport. Yet it’s not really a town body. It’s independent — “like a water pollution control authority,” says executive director Carol Martin.

As with other housing authorities around Connecticut, the WHA falls under a state statute.

The 1st selectman appoints a board of commissioners. Five members serve rolling 5-year terms.

Beyond that though, there is no link to town government. The housing authority’s money is completely separate too.

Funding comes from federal and state grants, and real estate the WHA owns and manages. Each of its 4 independent properties has its own operating budget. They range from $412,000 annually (Hidden Brook), to $1.1 million (Hales Court).

All 221 units are income-restricted.

At Hales Court, the limit is 60% of the area median income. For a family of 4, that median is about $144,000 a year. So, Martin says, the 78 homes there — most of them 1,700 to 1,800 square feet — are rented by people with quite low incomes, to those earning about $75,000 annually.

Hales Court, after its 2008 modernization.

Hales Court now encompasses 78 units. The WHA modernized the entire area in 2008. The original homes had limited accessibility, and were not in compliance with fire codes.

Working with a development partner, the WHA applied for and received $2 million in 9% low-income housing tax credits — a program initiated by the Reagan administration.

Sasco Creek and Hidden Brook — the front and rear portions of 4-acre 1655 Post Road East, respectively, until the 1990s the site of a trailer park near Stop & Shop — is restricted, variously, to families with 60%, 50% and 25% of the area median income. Most units include 3 bedrooms, and are approximately 1,800 square feet.

Hidden Brook apartments.

The 2 developments were constructed using tax credits, and tax-exempt bond financing.

Canal Park’s studio and 1-bedroom apartments are restricted to people 62 and older, and the disabled (by Social Security definition). It was built in 1981, with federal and state assistance.

Martin — the part-time executive director — is assisted by two full-time “resident services” staff members. Other operations — maintenance work, rent collection, lease enforcement and the like — are contracted out.

“We’ve really elevated our services,” Martin says proudly. “We’ve got cradle to grave — newborns to the frail elderly — and we take care of them all.”

David Newberg chairs the Westport Housing Authority. He and fellow commissioners Thomas Bloch, Jeff Nixon, Kathleen Wauchope and C. Gibson Halloran “understand and support our mission,” Martin says. “They all want to give back to the town.”

Westport Housing Authority director Carol Martin.

The WHA does great — and important — work. They’d like to create even more housing opportunities.

However, Martin notes, the cost of land and zoning regulations limit future expansion.

But the WHA keeps looking for opportunities.

“We help people become more successful — emotionally, socially and financially,” Martin says. ” We’re a friendly partner. We do all the work.”

Even if most Westporters have no idea who — or what — the Westport Housing Authority is.

8-30g Relief? Not So Fast.

It seemed like welcome news last month, when the General Assembly overrode Governor Malloy’s veto of a bill that would loosen restrictions of 8-30g. Part of the state’s affordable housing standards, 8-30g incentivizes municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock “affordable.”

Officials in Westport — which has more affordable housing than counts under narrow 8-30g regulations — thought the override meant they’d qualify for a moratorium.

But the devil may be in the details.

According to Partnership for Strong Communities — a statewide policy and advocacy organization “dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding the creation of affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut” — Westport will not qualify for “eligibility relief.”

Hales Court is affordable Westport housing — though it was built before 8-30g regulations came in effect in 1990, and does not count for “points.”

The reasons are complex. The organization says:

Through September 30, 2022 a town is eligible for a moratorium from the provisions of Section 8-30g if it shows that it has added affordable housing units equal to the greater of 2 percent of the housing stock, or 50 Housing Unit Equivalent (HUE) points. Previously, the minimum number of HUE points required was 75. This change makes it easier for the state’s 64 smallest towns to achieve a moratorium.

But Westport is not among those “smallest towns.”

For towns with 20,000 or more housing units, the requirements for achieving a 2nd and subsequent moratorium have been eased by reducing the number of HUE points needed from 2% of a town’s housing units to 1.5%. The term of a 2nd or subsequent moratorium is extended from 4 to 5 years for 6 towns: Fairfield, Greenwich, Hamden, Milford, Stratford and West Hartford.

In other words — according to PSC — Westport is not helped by having 10,000 housing units less than the 20,000.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. It too was built before 1990.

The organization continues:

Through September 30, 2022, restricted family units with at least 3 bedrooms, or in an Incentive Housing Zone (IHZ), receive a 1/4-point bonus. Restricted elderly units receive a 1/2-point bonus, if at least 60% of the restricted units counted toward the moratorium are family units.

However, no 3-bedroom units have been offered in any 8-30g in Westport.

Complex? Absolutely.

What comes next? Perhaps more “affordable housing” proposals.

Stay tuned.

Photo Challenge #126

When Ed Simek sent in a photo for last week’s challenge, I had to admit: I’d never noticed it.

But there the statue sits, hidden in plain site, on the Canal Street/Kings Highway North corner, near Canal Park. Click here to see the image, and the (mostly wrong) guesses.

It honors the Izzo family, longtime residents of the area. Think Izzo Lane, off Richmondville — and Crossroads Hardware, right around the corner.

Complimenti to Kathi Sherman, Lee Fleming, Wendy Cusick and Alec Head. And special congrats go to Kitty Graves, who supplied this info:

The sculpture was created by Chris Ray, son of noted landscape architect Eloise Ray. She designed Canal Park — and many others around Westport. This is a copy of the original, which was stolen.

This week’s photo challenge is special. Click “Comments” to tell us where in Westport you’d find this; how it got there, and why we’re posting this today.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Affordable Housing: Westport By The Numbers

We’ve all heard a lot about 8-30g — the state’s “affordable housing” statute.

But what is “8-30g”? And what does “affordable housing” really mean?

At last Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting — where members voted unanimously to deny an application for a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex (including 15 affordable units) — P&Z member Catherine Walsh entered into the record a report on that topic.

She noted that Westport currently has “a diversity of housing stock for low income groups, special needs, the homeless and the elderly.”

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

However, 8-30g counts only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years. Most Westport units that serve lower-income groups do not fall into either category, she said.

But they do exist.

According to the 2010 census, 10,399 dwelling units are used for calculating 8-30g “points.” Of those, 9,860 are single-family homes.

Among “single family” units, there are 1,069 documented apartments. Only 7 are deed-restricted, to comply with 8-30g.

She included other figures, including group homes and approved-but-not-yet-completed units, as well as low-income units that do not fully comply with all aspects, yet still serve low-income citizens.

“Westport has always believed in and encouraged increasing the diversity of housing stock while maintaining our small town character,” Walsh said.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

In recent years the P&Z took action to “further encourage diversity of housing,” and comply with 8-30g requirements. Members enacted legislation covering mobile home replacement units, and created a variety of zones. These range from 15% affordable, to 100%.

Westport has also encouraged legalizing existing apartments in private homes. Over 1,000 units would benefit lower-income residents, but do not comply with the statute. (Most homeowners oppose 40-year deed restrictions.) Over 200 in-home apartments have been legalized.

The old Saugatuck School on Bridge Street has been repurposed into low-cost housing for the elderly. Those 36 units do not count toward 8-30g.

In 2010 the P&Z passed text amendments to allow affordable housing in 8 split commercial/residential zones. There were no applications until 2014. The Geiger project (Post Road and North Morningside) is currently under construction.

In addition, the town — through its Housing  Authority — has upgraded low-income housing units at Hales Court and Sasco Creek. Hales Court (built in the 1950s) now has twice the number of units (78). Sasco Creek also increases the number of affordable units.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as "affordable" by 8-30g regulations.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as “affordable” by 8-30g regulations.

In other affordable housing news, RTM member Matthew Mandell sent “06880” a link to an equation he developed (with help from Staples High School teachers Bill Walsh and David Rollison). Click here to see it.

Inputting a few figures lets you know how many units must be built to reach the 10% affordable figure mandated in 8-30g. It works for any town — not just Westport.

Mandell takes his math one step further. Start with a round figure of 10,000 housing units in Westport. Approximately 270 are deemed “affordable,” by 8-30g standards.

To get to the statute’s target of 1,000 units, you’d think we’d need to build 730 more.

Wrong, Mandell says. It’s more like 3,650.

What?!

Mandell notes that the affordable units being proposed now in Westport are part of bigger complexes. Every unit in a new proposal is not “affordably” priced.

So a developer who builds a 150-unit building with 45 affordable apartments has also built 105 that are not. And the town’s housing stock has increased by 150 as well — meaning more, not fewer, affordable units now must be built. The end number keeps moving further away.

“If we built 3 buildings with 250 units each — all of them affordable — we could do it,” Mandell says.

“But that’s impossible. We can’t get to 10% without destroying the very fabric of our community.”