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New Canaan opens new affordable apartment complex amid town tension

Abigail Brone
Connecticut Public
Officials cut the ribbon on a site where 60 out-of-date affordable apartments were replaced with 100 new affordable units spread across two buildings.

New Canaan, a town censured by the state for its lack of affordable housing options, opened a new affordable apartment complex Tuesday.

The Canaan Parishcomplex was first created 50 years ago. It was demolished by the town because it was not well maintained. The site was redeveloped and the 60 out-of-date affordable apartments were replaced with 100 new affordable units spread across two buildings.

An opening celebration, attended by Gov. Ned Lamont and other officials, was tinged with tension over the town’s on-going legal struggle with the state Department of Housing (DOH). Many town residents were opposed to the construction of the affordable units.

New Canaan had a moratorium on the construction of affordable housing from 2017 to 2021. The Connecticut DOH ended the moratorium, which the town continues to contest in court.

“This discretionary judgment is based on the opinion that we produce too many affordable units too quickly, so they should not count toward the moratorium,” New Canaan Housing Authority Chair Scott Hobbs said. “That is the alleged problem in a nutshell, New Canaan produced too many units too quickly. We're fighting this determination.”

As part of the moratorium, New Canaan wanted to use about 31 affordable housing units constructed prior to the town’s first moratorium as justification for a future one.

New Canaan historically has one of the lowest rates of affordable housing in the state, with less than 3% of its housing units designated affordable. First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said Connecticut should do more to bolster affordable housing construction in New Canaan and other parts of the state.

“This was an affordable housing project in the late 1970s. The town gave the land for this project to be built, and they built 60 apartments, which after 50 years were obsolete,” Moynihan said. “They didn't have air conditioning. They weren't ADA compliant. They didn't have dishwashers, washer, dryers, so we had to replace those. But when you replace something you should get credit for having replaced them and built new.”

The cost of land in the town is a hindrance for affordable construction, Moynihan said.

“The problem is, affordable housing is a real challenge for a town like New Canaan. This property, if it was available to a developer, would probably cost $10 to $12 million,” Moynihan said. “I'll build more affordable housing, but you’ve got to give me free land. Who's gonna pay for that land? We have to figure out how to make this work, the state needs to share some of the money.”

The Canaan Parish complex includes single and multi-bedroom apartments, on-site management and a furnished clubhouse for residents. A large outdoor space includes a grilling area, playground, multi-sport court and a community garden.

Lamont addressed the moratorium and construction concerns.

“Show us the way you want to do it and you take the lead on this — we'll be right there next to you,” Lamont said.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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