Affordable Housing In An Unaffordable Area

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April 27, 2016

Like many wealthy areas around the country, New Canaan, Conn., has laws in place that require a certain percentage of their housing units to be affordable. A state law that went into effect in 1990 called for all 169 municipalities in Connecticut to set aside at least 10 percent of the housing units as affordable. That may seem like a reasonable number, but for New Canaan, where the average home sells for $1.4 million, it can be easier said than done. Currently, only 2.4 percent of New Canaan’s homes are affordable, but the town is certainly putting in the work to fix that.

In 1993, on a private parking lot next to the New Canaan train station, 104 apartments were proposed, 21 of which would have been affordable units. The local planning commission rejected the project but it was repeatedly upheld in court. After five years, the dispute was finally settled and the parking lot was swapped out for a parcel of land a mile away. The New York Times reports.

After this lengthy ordeal, the town decided to approve a 1 percent surcharge on building permits for all new or renovated homes (a move that was met with strong opposition) in order to create an affordable housing fund.

Thus far, however, the best place to build affordable housing in New Canaan is in the place of the town’s few older affordable units. And they have just about run out of those units. The town says after all existing affordable housing has been upgraded they will be out of viable land. As Matt A.V. Chaban writes, the town has proved to be innovative but inflexible as neighbors often fiercely oppose proposals for new developments that include affordable units.

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