Slow turnover fuels affordable housing woes in Westport
WESTPORT — For the first time in nearly four years, the town announced in May that affordable housing pre-applications were available — and the response has been overwhelming.
“For 221 apartments we got over 3,000 applications,” Westport Housing Authority Executive Director Carol Martin said. “We only opened it up for about three and a half weeks.”
Of those, however, only 100 will be randomly selected to be added to a waitlist.
This latest round of housing applications shines a light on Westport’s slow turnover rate, and the growing number of people seeking affordable living options in one of the nation’s weathiest towns.
“Once someone gets a unit in our development, if they want to stay in Westport there’s not really a stepping stone to move out,” Martin said. “We don’t get a lot of people moving out of our apartments. So there’s no real turnover.”
Therefore, there is no guarantee when the newest 100 applicants would be placed in the Westport Housing Authority’s four affordable housing facilities: Canal Park, Hidden Brook, Hales Court, and Sasco Creek apartments.
These obstacles contribute to a waiting list that typically opens every four to five years.
“What’s really concerning about this is we get four or five calls a day,” she said. “I get emails over the weekend for people needing affordable housing. ... There’s an affordable housing crisis.”
For Martin, it not uncommon to even hear former Westporters having difficulty finding housing upon returning to their hometown.
“I can’t tell you how many of those calls I’ve received,” Martin said. “It can be very sad.”
Outside the housing authority’s four facilities, private developments provide some relief to the affordable housing demand. Just last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved 32 rental units on Post Road East, which includes seven affordable units. Greens Farms Apartments, which opened in 2018 at 1177 Post Road E., contains 29 affordable units.
Another rental complex proposal on Hiawatha Lane, if built, would add 57 such units to the mix.
But even with the developments and the town’s housing properties, Martin said the demand still outweighs the supply.
At the Planning and Zoning’s July 25 meeting, Green Farms Apartments resident Nicole Keane voiced how affordable housing changed her life.
“I was so excited when I was approved,” Keane recalled. “It has been one of the most wonderful things that has happened to me in a very long time.”
Keane, who fell on hard times taking care of her ill husband, said affordable living allowed her to live enjoy a safe environment in a wonderful town.
Martin, who is also the executive director of Fairfield Housing Authority, said the crisis is being felt not only in Westport, but across Fairfield County. When Fairfield Housing Authority opened its waitlist earlier this year, they received 1,170 applications for only 100 spots.
Out-of-towners looking to relocate aren’t the only ones being blocked — Martin said older residents are being aged out of finding housing.
“They shouldn’t have to be economically displaced,” she said. “They should have an opportunity to live right in the community in which they grew up with.”
A driving factor for the lack of housing in Fairfield County is the cost of land, she said, adding in Westport an acre of land can be $1 million. In addition, much of Westport is already developed.
The gap between affordable and market-rate units is another hurdle; with a lack of diverse housing, residents who place in rental units often don’t have a realistic next step, Martin said.
“Fairfield County is pretty unique because we’re still slightly growing in population, but we’re also aging,” she said. “If you don’t have a continuum of housing to address the life cycle, you’re displacing people ultimately.”