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Fairfield County’s housing shortage is an economic time bomb

The high cost of housing in Fairfield County is generally accepted as a trade-off for living close to New York City in a community known for its great schools, lots of open space, and beautiful waterfronts.

But this narrative hides the fact that Fairfield County faces a housing crisis that threatens the short- and long-term economic health of our community. In other words, our community does not have enough affordable housing to accommodate those who live and work here.

The good news is that we have the power to change, but only if we take immediate action to address a problem that has long been overlooked.

How serious is the problem?

According to a 2021 research report from Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity and Urban Institute, more than half of Fairfield County’s 114,000 renter households are overburdened or heavily overburdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income for housing.

The same research found that these burdens disproportionately impact Black and Latino households and people with disabilities — populations that are more likely to rent.

Predictably, these burdens also fall primarily on low-income people. And in Fairfield County, the gap between rich and poor is particularly wide. In fact, Fairfield County is home to the largest income and opportunity gap of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

This means that we have the resources to change this dynamic. And when considering the economic and social costs associated with high housing costs, we should also be motivated to try a new approach.

Decades of research and data show that when families live without the burden of high housing costs, children do better in school. People are healthier. Families are stronger. Our communities are richer. The economy is healthier. And we are more fair and equitable.

We have already begun to take important steps to address our housing crisis and put Fairfield County on the path to creating effective housing solutions to meet the needs of our most vulnerable residents and improve our economic health.

In 2019, the Fairfield County Community Foundation partnered with Housing Collective, the Regional Plan Association, and the Partnership for Strong Communities to launch Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity (FCCHO). With the support of funders like JP Morgan Chase, FCCHO works with residents, government, community organizations, nonprofits and business leaders to identify and implement equitable solutions to the challenge of Affordable Housing in Fairfield County.

Since its creation, the FCCHO has:

● inventoried all supported housing in the state and built an open-source data platform (AffordCT) to visualize this inventory and support data-driven decision-making about housing policy and practice;

● helped Fairfield County municipalities obtain funding and technical assistance to create affordable housing plans;

● created a Fairfield County Housing Needs Assessment that provides each city in the region with data to clearly identify its housing needs;

● Facilitated the Governor’s Task Force on Transit-Oriented Development in Fairfield County; and

● merged the region in awareness and connection to Unite CT, Connecticut’s rental assistance program.

Together, we are building a strong foundation for understanding our housing affordability challenges and making progress in addressing them.

We invite you to join us in this effort by taking simple, yet important steps that can help produce meaningful change.

It starts with finding out about the issues and telling others about them. The Fairfield County Talks Housing series – hosted by FCCHO – offers Fairfield County residents the opportunity to learn about housing through fact-based, community-led conversations.

There you will learn how to solve our housing crisis by creating more housing units in your community and increasing new housing development along major transportation corridors.

You will learn how minimum lot size requirements in many Fairfield County communities reduce affordability by making it more expensive to build new homes and how allowing accessory dwelling units – smaller spaces living units built on the same land as a single-family home – can expand affordable housing options.

Finally, you can speak up and let your local and national elected officials know your position on these and other issues. You can do this by submitting testimony at public hearings, contacting their offices, and attending and making your voice heard at zoning meetings.

Your voice can make a difference in ensuring that we can create a Fairfield County that is affordable for all and, therefore, more prosperous for all.

Juanita James is President and CEO of the Fairfield County Community Foundation. Rafia Zahir-Uddin is Vice President, Global Philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.