New Fairfield’s Housing Opportunities Committee is interested in gathering as much input as possible from the community before they begin a draft of the state-mandated affordable housing plan for the town. They held two public forums last week and have released an anonymous survey, available at surveymonkey.com/r/NFhome or Newfairfield.org. Confronting the notion that affordable housing may not be needed in the town was information that may surprise some, including the figure that 1,405 households would qualify for affordable housing in New Fairfield based on the state’s definition that housing should cost less than 30% of the income of households that earn 80% of the area median income (AMI) or less. A total of 25% of all households in town would qualify.
Continuing to stun, forum participants learned that 485 households in New Fairfield are paying more than 50% of their income on housing costs, marking them as “severely cost burdened” and it is presumably particularly challenging for those households to continue to live here. Another nearly 800 households spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs.
External consultant Jocelyn Ayer, of the Centers for Housing Opportunities, developed the survey for the town and pointed out in her work that, not only is a large segment of the population challenged by their housing costs, but the issue is further exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing. In researching for the survey, she discovered, of the 5,593 housing units in town only sixty-six were assisted units—i.e. allowed for tenant rental assistance, were single family CHFA or USDA mortgages, or are deed restricted units. Ayer mentioned that a search for rental units produced six homes in New Fairfield, none of which were below $3,000 per month and one was a whopping $20,000 per month for a lake property. The total percentage of affordable housing units in town was reported to be 1.18%.
Of the current survey results, 48% of responders anticipate that their children or their parents will have to move out of New Fairfield in the future to find housing that they can afford. 59% think that the town does need some options to allow older adults somewhere to downsize, 38% responded that the town needs rental housing.
It was noted, while New Fairfield will remain a community of predominantly single family homes on large lots—representing 95% of housing available in town—there may be a need to allow for additional types of housing stock to make housing affordable for a variety of constituents, including young families, people who work lower-paying jobs, recent graduates, and more. The seven-member Housing Committee reports, the “Town recognizes the need to provide more variation in its housing stock. Diversifying New Fairfield’s housing stock can potentially allow young people to live in the community where they grew up, allow seniors to downsize within their community, and provide housing opportunities for firemen, teachers, and others who serve or work in New Fairfield.” It was pointed out that a large amount is invested in young people who volunteer for the fire department but who need to move away when they are ready to live on their own due to affordability.
Ayer explained, the town’s plan that will be created does not need to “only focus on what is defined as affordable housing. It can really think about all of the housing needs of the folks in New Fairfield: people of all ages, mobility, and accessibility needs, as well as having housing for a range of incomes.” She stressed that the town is simply creating the plan and will have no tie to the financial creation of future housing.
The plan will include an assessment of existing housing stock, what types of housing the town has, and determine needs. Also included will be goals, such as the ideal number of units to be created in the next five years. The plan will also detail specific strategies for how best to meet the goals.
Selectman Khris Hall pointed out, “this whole effort is to broaden our views on what affordable housing means and to help dismiss some of the stereotypes to help decision makers understand what the community would like to see.” Committee members encouraged residents to share their thoughts through the survey or additional upcoming forums, noting all feedback is welcome.