Advocates Urge CT To Commit More Dollars From American Rescue Plan to Housing In Fairfield County
The Fairfield Housing Authority and Operation Hope of Fairfield have declared a housing crisis. And as almost $3 billion in discretionary federal funds heads to Connecticut under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), they’re calling on the state to support more long-term solutions.
“We’re looking for capital investment in brick-and-mortars to create more affordable units across the state. And certainly in Fairfield County where there is such a huge gap between the median income and housing costs,” said Carol Martin, the Executive Director of the Westport and Fairfield Housing Authority.
Martin has been at the forefront of housing advocacy since the start of the pandemic. As many saw their incomes dwindle and household sizes fluctuate, she said the demand for help only increased.
“We opened up our housing choice voucher, our rental assistance waitlist in the middle of the pandemic in July 2020. I only had it open for two weeks and we had 7,600 applications,” Martin said. “If folks really understand the statistics, the data and the need, I think more folks would be supportive.”
The incoming ARPA funds, authorized in March under President Joe Biden, gives states an opportunity to remedy impacts caused or exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. The hope is to help communities restabilize for when the federal relief expires at the end of 2024.
Governor Ned Lamont and the legislature’s appropriations committee both introduced allocation plans for the money, laying down the groundwork for a “transformative, equitable and healthy recovery” for the state.
Both plans include large fiscal support for local health departments, COVID relief, education and more. Currently about $40 million is allocated to housing concerns including support to level the playing field in housing court for those at risk of eviction. But none is set aside for more permanent solutions and Martin said that’s an issue.
“What happens at the end of three or four years when the money is gone? You have to have a solution, you can't just have a cliff approach to this,” Martin said. “That starts with increasing the supply of affordable housing.”
Advocates are asking for $200 million, or less than one percent of the discretionary fiscal fund, to go towards new affordable housing units and the support of existing services like emergency shelters, mortgage relief and more, supported through the previous federal emergency plan, the CARES Act.
It takes about 18 to 24 months to construct new housing, Martin added, so if the state greenlights more funds it could be in a better position a couple years from now. In fact, the money could resume several shovel ready developments including one in Fairfield.
“We have a project here in Fairfield that we hope will get funding later this year or early next year to get started. We're anxious to get it started. It's 40 rental units, half of which will be fully accessible apartments. We would love to get going, but the funding has to be there,” Martin said.
The development, approved last year on High Street, would consist of 70 percent affordable units.
Martin believes Governor Ned Lamont has been supportive of housing efforts and the omission of long-term solutions is simply an oversight.
Nothing is set in stone yet and Lamont has an open door for suggestions, according to the governor’s Communications Director Max Reiss. But funds for more housing have already been proposed. It’s just in other plans like Lamont's suggested capital budget.
“Governor Lamont when it comes to housing has demonstrated a remarkable commitment which we feel meets the moment,” Reiss said. “The governor has proposed at this point north of $300 million on top of another $60 million that has already been approved by the most recent bond commission; we feel that these are strong investments in our future.”
Reiss said Connecticut has led efforts nationwide to address housing instability during the pandemic and will continue to do so along with housing advocates.
“We stood up a renters relief program before just about every other state, we stood up a mortgage assistance program before most any other state, and we intend on putting the $2.8 billion in state fiscal recovery funds to work in myriad ways,” he added.
Conversations about the final allocation plan are ongoing.