Editorial: Time for Westport to embrace affordable housing
A proposal for 19 condos on Morningside Drive is the latest attempt by developers to add affordable housing to Westport.
And like many similar projects before it throughout town, residents in the surrounding historic district are not thrilled, and understandably so.
The plan calls for demolishing the farmhouse at 26 Morningside once owned by the now deceased artist couple Walter and Naiad Einsel, who achieved historic status for the house and its neighboring 20 Morningside property in 2007.
Neighborhood group Greens Farms United has mobilized against the construction.
A solution will, hopefully, be discussed at the next Conservation Commission meeting in March, but until then, the latest Morningside issue sheds light on a bigger problem in Westport — an aversion to affordable housing.
It’s no secret Westport needs more affordable housing, not only to satisfy state requirements, but also to encourage young families and lower-paid employees to live in town.
People are leaving Connecticut, especially young, college-educated professionals.
A recent study from United Van Lines ranked Connecticut third from last nationally for the number of residents moving out of state. A state Office of Policy and Management report published in 2017 also found young adults ages 22 to 29, and those over 65, are leaving the state in higher numbers than others.
Those who do stay flock to urban environments like New Haven or Stamford, where more plentiful and affordable housing options exist. But just as the cities accomodate residents with a range of incomes, so must our suburbs if Connecticut is to improve economically.
Many who cannot afford to buy homes or find affordable options in the Gold Coast look elsewhere to settle, depriving these communities an influx of new business and potential talent.
And Westport’s consistent resistance to new housing doesn’t send a welcoming message to younger folks who may be deciding whether to stay or leave.
Attempts to add affordable housing to Westport are treated like threats to the very fabric of society (developments on Hiawatha Lane, Lincoln Street and even a project to house the homeless on Post Road East in 2010, for example).
In many of these cases, residents said they have no issue with affordable housing ... only in places that could affect the “character” of their neighborhoods. In a historic town like Westport, however, that’s pretty much everywhere; so when each proposal is challenged with the same excuse, something has got to give.
Connecticut is nicknamed “The Land of Steady Habits,” and in the way of afforable housing, Westport certainly fits the mold. Westporters want things to stay as they are, but times are changing. Connecticut needs to be an inviting atmosphere for new ideas and people of all incomes.
Affordable housing shouldn’t be viewed as toxic, something that should be tucked away somewhere quiet as to not affect the town’s way of life.
If people in Westport want to embrace affordable housing — but not in their backyards — are they truly being open to new residents if such hostility exists to sharing a space? The town needs to consider if preserving every inch of Westport history is worth preventing others from contributing to it.
This is not to say every multi-unit housing development be approved. But Westporters shouldn’t fight tooth-and-nail to thwart every attempt to build one either.
What are your thoughts about affordable housing in Westport? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: The editorial incorrectly stated Greens Farms United also organized against the previous mansion planned for 20-26 Morningside Drive in 2017. The group formed in 2018.