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CT lawmakers look for ways to increase affordable housing in Fairfield County

A construction worker moves paneling for the foundation of a building that will be part of Oak Grove - an affordable housing complex in Norwalk.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
A construction worker moves paneling for the foundation of a building that will be part of Oak Grove - an affordable housing complex in Norwalk.

State lawmakers are assessing housing issues that will take center stage in this new legislative session, with a particular emphasis on Fairfield County.

During a virtual panel held by Fairfield County Talks Housing, a program within the Fairfield County Center for Housing Opportunity, several state legislators spoke on what they consider the most pressing housing issues and what laws they expect to propose.

The need for more affordable housing is particularly felt in Fairfield County, where roughly 25,000 more affordable units are needed.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, who represents Norwalk and parts of Darien, said he wants to focus more on land use and changing the state’s zoning regulations to increase housing stock.

“The best thing that we could do is zoning reform, so that every community has to take part in building more housing, especially along the transit oriented development areas, that's really what will help to spur more housing in our state,” Duff said.

Housing advocates and legislators say one way to increase affordable housing and bring down rent costs in Fairfield County is to unify zoning regulations this legislative session.

Rather than have each municipality in the county establish their own housing plans.

Mendi Blue Paca, President of nonprofit Fairfield County Community Foundation, said no state oversight leads to a weakened housing landscape county-wide.

“A lack of regional collaboration and the absence of county government means each town and city creates and executes its own housing plans,” Blue Paca said. “Sometimes the goals in one city can feel as if they compete with those neighboring municipalities.”

State Rep. Jason Rojas wants to ease the load on locally-led land and zoning boards, increasing their work capacity and placing some of the burden on the state. He said finding ways to increase capacity should be a priority.

“That is a huge effort for what are largely citizen-led boards at the local level, who will have limited staff within their community if they're on the smaller side of things,” Rojas said. “What role does the state have? We formalize the office of responsible growth in the long term, our goal is just to have that body provide the kind of technical assistance that I think a lot of our local decision makers need.”

Fairfield County ranks last in Connecticut for affordable housing options and is considered by housing advocates as the epicenter of the state’s housing crisis.

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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