Westport creating a plan to add affordable housing

Westport Town Hall, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 24, 2016.

Westport Town Hall, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 24, 2016.

Ned Gerard

WESTPORT — Officials are looking at what the town’s housing needs are and crafting a plan to meet them as they work to increase the amount of affordable housing in Westport.

Helen McAlinden, president and CEO of Homes with Hope, said that affordable housing is currently “a huge crisis.”

“It is really important to set aside affordable housing,” McAlinden said. “I am very excited to be a part of the movement in order to make sure everybody has a safe and affordable place to call home.”

Westport’s effort is being led by the Planning and Zoning Affordable Housing Subcommittee.

“I’m really excited for us to have this opportunity,” said Danielle Dobin, the subcommittee chair. “I really want to use it as a means for us to have a community wide conversation about housing. We have a lot of new residents who have a different fresh perspective on diversifying housing in Westport.”

Dobin said the commission would typically hire a crisis consultant to do the work, but the members decided to do it themselves after discussing it with staff and other commissioners.

She said the goal is to create a “homegrown” plan that focuses on specifics for Westport.

Each municipality in Connecticut has to prepare, amend or adopt an affordable housing plan every five years. The law, which is under section 8-30j, requires the plans specify how the municipality intends to increase the number of affordable housing developments.

Each plan should have a community value statement, the history of affordable housing in town, a housing needs assessment, a land use and zoning assessment, an understanding of the town’s housing market as well as the plans, principles, goals and action the town seeks to take, according to guidance the State Department of Housing released last year.

The committee kicked off the six-month process to establish the plan at Wednesday’s meeting.

The timeline will continue into January with a discussion at the Westport Library featuring Dobin and First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker. The event will be moderated by Christie Stewart of the Fairfield County Center for Housing Opportunity and there will be a chance for the public to ask questions.

Tooker said that she Dobin have already been hard at work, meeting to discuss affordable housing.

“The initiatives of this sub-committee are really important, really important for the future of Westport and I plan to be as involved as possible to insure we take our initiative very seriously on providing diverse housing in Westport,” Tooker said.

An online survey to get community feedback will be published in February. There will also be a forum that month, sponsored by Save Westport Now, the Coalition for Westport, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

The subcommittee will meet in March to review the findings, survey results and discussions. It will begin drafting the report in April and hold an initial public review. A final draft will be posted for public comment and revisions in May and the final plan will be submitted in June.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg said he wants to act as a liaison with the state to help share the “good intentions” and “sincere efforts” of the people working on this in Westport.

Michael Cammeyer, a subcommittee member, said all of the planned meetings will allow the subcommittee to have a “comprehensive game plan.”

“I think it is very very important that we all listen before giving feedback,” he said. “I want to hear what our residents have to say.”

Serenity.bishop@hearstmediact.com