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 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.
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.”
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.