Opinion: Norwalk’s master plan cannot ignore fair housing needs

Norwalk Fair Housing Officer Margaret Suib. (File photo)

I was sorry to miss this recent Common Council Planning Committee public hearing on the drafted 10-year City-wide master plan, otherwise called the Plan of Conservation and Development, but I was out of town.


In this POCD process, I was originally asked to speak to the consultants during the week of Aug. 10, 2017. I replied I was out of town that week and asked for any other time to meet. I was assured the consultant would “circle back” to me. That never happened, although I reminded the consultant several times.


In the Spring of 2018, I was invited to join the POCD Oversight Committee and began attending meetings that May. The consultant was present at those meetings, but like many others, I felt my comments were ignored.


In July, 2018, I wrote a memorandum to the POCD Oversight Committee and the Planning Commission setting forth what is required in a POCD, vis-a-vis Fair Housing and affordable housing, in order to be accepted by the State and eligible for certain state and federal funding. I share the bulk of that memorandum here:


“Norwalk’s final POCD must be consistent with the State of CT’s POCD in order to be eligible for State and Federal funding. Among the federal and state requirements is that planning documents must “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.” This responsibility has been defined as not only redressing instances of housing discrimination, but also taking steps to address historic patterns of segregation (Connecticut as been the seventh most segregated state in the country and is now the third), promote Fair Housing choice, and foster inclusive communities.


This document’s outline suggests two problematic themes: (1) only planning for multifamily housing in areas where it already exists, rather than opening opportunities to all in other areas of the city so as to do something about our historically segregated city and (2) planning for “empty nesters” and “young” residents in the urban core (a potential fair housing violation) – we need an equivalent statement and program/development requirement to provide comparably sized housing that is affordable to current residents, including families with children and people with disabilities in the urban core who are being displaced by gentrification.


We need to add that small affordable housing development (4-10 units) can be done as of right anywhere in the City; that a program beyond security deposit assistance is available to lower income people (because if they can’t afford the rents, then the security deposit program’s only possible outcome to is help lower income people move out of Norwalk, which is contrary to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing and creating inclusivity).


The State of Connecticut’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (2015) says that under Connecticut Gen. Stat. § 8-23, Norwalk’s POCD must consider affordable housing. To consider it, the POCD must define the need. Norwalk has identified the need for affordable housing in the past as the greatest need in Norwalk, as more than 50% of renters and homeowners are paying significantly more than 30% of their income on housing costs (30% is the accepted standard for affordability). I’m not sure from the outline whether the POCD will have the data needed to quantify the need, including demographic data. It must. If not, since many Blacks, Latinos, people with disabilities, families with children and the elderly need affordable housing, failure to consider the need for this housing and to address that need is also an impediment to fair housing.


The state further instructed that TOD (transit oriented development) areas “…affirmatively further fair housing by both promoting integration and preventing displacement of low-income and minority residents from areas that are gentrifying as the result of TOD and expanding fair housing choice. “Norwalk’s Plan appears not to include this as there is no mention of a plan to prevent displacement of current residents.


The State’s plan provided a roadmap for things the municipalities need to include, stating,


“Municipalities play a central role in ensuring that Connecticut’s residents have access to housing in a variety of locations. To ensure that their planning documents and municipal ordinances affirmatively further fair housing, municipalities should:

  • “Encourage the creation and rehabilitation of affordable housing in a variety of locations;
  • “Identify developable land within the municipality for developers of affordable housing.
  • “Participate in regional planning efforts to ensure that there is affordable housing in a variety of locations.
  • “Encourage the collection and analysis of data to determine if the municipality is meeting its goals to affirmatively further fair housing
  • “Report municipal and regional racial and ethnic composition data in municipal POCDs.
  • “Ensure local planning documents affirmatively further fair housing
  • “Publish the municipality’s POCD on its website;
  • “Convene stakeholders to review proposed legislative solutions to existing impediments to fair housing choice
  • “Review occupancy ordinances, regulations and/or guidelines to ensure that the rules are not unnecessarily restrictive for families with children. At a minimum, they should be in line with reasonable local fire and building codes.
  • “Determine whether the zoning ordinances and other occupancy rules are enforced in a non-discriminatory way.
  • “Review zoning ordinances to determine if they require special permits for affordable housing or require large lot sizes, low density requirements, or other policies that would make the development of affordable housing expensive and propose changes to such requirements.
  • “If the municipality’s zoning ordinance does not include a statement that people with disabilities have the right to request a reasonable accommodation of a change in any zoning ordinance, add this to the existing zoning ordinances.
  • “Maximize the effectiveness of programs that promote mobility
  • “If a municipality uses a residency or employment preference to select affordable housing tenants, it should conduct an analysis to determine if such requirements have an illegal disproportionate impact on non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, people with disabilities, single-parent families, and people with housing subsidies.
  • “Maintain and make easily available comprehensive, current lists of available housing units, with a special emphasis on units in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Consider additional funding for housing authorities to support this effort.
  • “Promote fair housing enforcement and education [in Norwalk, continue to have and adequately fund the Fair Housing Office, e.g. Fair Housing Officer and Fair Housing Advisory Commission];
  • “Appoint a fair housing officer, have him or her trained on their duties and responsibilities as a fair housing officer, and publicize the person’s name, contact information, and job responsibilities. [Norwalk already has an experienced and long-time FHO, but the position and topic need to be further integrated into Norwalk’s planning and development.]
  • “Sponsor, or work with housing provider associations to sponsor, fair housing trainings for housing providers.[In Norwalk, increase funding for trainings for developers and housing providers]
  • “Refer complaints of housing discrimination to HUD, CHRO, or a private fair housing agency. [City of Norwalk should first refer complaints of housing discrimination to the FHO for assistance];
  • “Provide Spanish (and possibly other languages) as an option on the main telephone line for reporting fair housing complaints or asking housing related questions. [Norwalk has a language plan already];
  • “Pool resources to provide language access to LEP individuals on a regional basis including translating and making available vital housing forms in Spanish.”


It continues, “Thank you again. I look forward to working with everyone to make sure that Norwalk’s POCD reflects the Fair Housing issues and plans needed per the State of Connecticut guidelines.”


While some of these issues are raised in the POCD, many are not. We must affirmatively further Fair Housing in Norwalk, as set forth, assuming we want to continue to accept millions of dollars in federal and state funding.


I look forward to continuing to work with our elected representatives at local, state and federal levels to address discrimination and segregation and to affirmatively further Fair Housing in Norwalk, in Connecticut, in the United States of America.

This op ed was originally published as a comment on NancyOnNorwalk.


10 responses to “Opinion: Norwalk’s master plan cannot ignore fair housing needs”

  1. Norwalk native

    Norwalk already has too much affordable housing. I question why this Agency and this Director deserve the continued support of my tax dollars. Connecticut remains a highly segregated state not because Norwalk isn’t doing enough, but because Darein, Westport, New Cannan continue to do nothing. One wonders how these highly Liberal and Democrat strongholds get away with their overtly racist and exclusionary zoning policies.
    If Norwalk needs more affordable housing, then maybe the Zoning Commission should enforce the illegal apartment regulations already on the books. This way, a two family home that is currently occupied by five illegal families can house two legitimate and tax paying families in need of affordable housing.

  2. Diane Lauricella

    Thank you Margaret and NON for highlighting this important topic.

    The Planning Commission and Council Planning Committee needs to amend the current draft and if needed, postpone a final vote until October.

    Finding truly affordable and safe housing without government assistance in Norwalk has become nearly impossible.

    Council and City has the moral imperative to “bake” the information provided by our Fair Housing Officer and Commission into THIS Draft POCD document.

  3. Non Partisan

    I respectfully disagree with everything in this article

    We do not need any more subsidized housing. The taxpayers simply can’t afford it. We are already beyond the 10% statutory requirement and it’s time to have a moratorium on any more.

    The Norwalk Fair Housing outsized voice in one of the major reasons single family home real estate taxes are well beyond our neighboring communities.

    If you are displaced by gentrification- go get training – or move to a location that better suits your skill level, job prospects, and housing.

    Enough already.

  4. Rusty Guardrail

    Given that Norwalk’s current percentage of affordable housing is nearly 150% of CT’s requirement, why should we strive to increase our percentage?

  5. Meghead

    Basic reading comprehension and critical thinking skills elude 3 out of 4 adults in Norwalk. This Op-Ed is about how the proposed Master Plan does not qualify for state and federal funding, by its failure to follow the established fair housing guidelines. This means that NORWALK is pursuing the racist and exclusionary policies, which will continue to squeeze local taxpayers, since NORWALK’S noncompliance leaves it ineligible for state and federal fair housing subsidies. The anger you feel is misplaced, even ‘illegal’ families pay taxes. Outrage should be directed at a broken City, known to be derelict with enforcement, which flaunts it. Be angry with your neighbor– the ‘legitimate’ homeowner/slumlord who has converted his single-family home into a zone and code-violating illegal rental, which is not being appropriately taxed as an income-generating property, with 16 occupants packed into 2,200 square feet, because, clearly, there is *NO* need for more affordable housing in Norwalk. Be angry about lost tax revenue, by *legal* Norwalk homeowners who are not paying their fair share of taxes, BECAUSE they are exploiting the lax enforcement of illegal rentals. I can’t wait to read the comments, once all the service providers and retail industry workers, and, yes, even school teachers, relocate to places which better suit their ‘skill level, job prospects and housing’, because they live too far away to justify keeping a job in Norwalk, with an unsustainable commute, to teach and care for your children, drive them on the school bus, make your coffee, landscape your yard, serve you food at your favorite restaurant… Oh, and, I hope you’re a fan of self-checkout, too! We had all better hope the mall is the miracle cure which we’ve been assured it is, because we need a miracle to fix this mess.

  6. Rusty Guardrail

    Meghead: Even if your wild inane rant made sense, it would be invalidated by the crude hostility of your baseless opening sentence.

  7. Jason Milligan

    “Affordable Housing” in Norwalk and in CT is based on lies and phony definitions.

    It is more about Government control than providing affordable places to live.

    The Government controls the development process, the funny money, the tax incentives and the back end with tenants.

    The programs incentivize you to stay poor or lie because if you earn even slightly more money you can lose you cheap housing.

    The costs involved with complying with the government involvement and control are enormous with no benefit derived from them.

    One of the more outrageous dishonest factors is cheap housing can only count as affordable if you deed restrict and invite government control.

    You could rent out apartments for $100 / month and they would count as NOT affordable. There are hundreds of apartments in Norwalk that have rents below the “affordable” thresholds that don’t count as affordable.

    There are many easy straightforward ways to flood the market with truly affordable apartments that would have the crony capitalists looking for a moratorium or other protections to keep their rents high.

    The “affordable housing” pushers don’t want a real solution. They like their system.

  8. Bill Nightingale

    Margaret Suib has the phony government cushy job of Fair Housing Officer. A job Norwalk has to create and fund due to the loss of a lawsuit. It must be nice to be the spokesperson for the Affordable Housing Industrial Complex on my tax dollar.

  9. Audrey Cozzarin

    Dear All, What a predicament humanity is experiencing in this present time.

    I invite everyone in Norwalk to stop for a few moments to visualize the wonderful community that could be ours. Ask, “How do I want to live? What kind of city do I want to live in? Is a my dream community a tightly-packed urban environment with its lively noises, hustle-bustle, and walkability? Or, perhaps a place where birdsong is heard and neighborhoods are peaceful and residents are content. Maybe a mix of both, more, or different? A city that is clean of pollution (air, water, clutter, noise)?” A city of brotherly love?

    What I am seeing is a need to transform this society, starting here, in our city. These discussions at NoN are really important, and we need to be respectful and courteous towards each other, not only here, but also on the roads, and in conversation with our officials. We are all children of God, and I am not afraid to say so. We are all equal in this country. We are all deserving of respect, and when we search for solutions coming from this higher place in ourselves, the solutions will reflect this.

    The people have the power. It says so right here on our city website: https://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/View/1365/City-Organizational-Chart-Boards-and-Commissions?bidId=

    Never forget that. Ask, “What am I doing productively with that power?”

    Beyond fair housing and development and who said this or did that, the bigger picture is that the stakes are high and nothing is more important than the care of Mother Earth. Without her we have nothing.

    Please attend 2 upcoming events–Come out and join your community, officials and residents alike:

    FRI., SEPT. 20, 6:3PM: “Living Wisely & Well on Planet Earth”, the film series on the environment at Norwalk Library (Friday evenings, Sept. 20, Oct. 5 & Oct. 11, 6:30pm, free admission). This Friday we feature the theme of “The Sustainable Lifestyle.” I am co-host with Diane Lauricella and the Library. This series is very much about current society and probes how we’re living, and what we’re going to do about it.

    MON., SEPT. 23, 7:00PM: A “Quality of Life” forum hosted by CNNA (Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations), City Hall, open to the public. Bring your vision, your recommendations, of how to improve the quality of life of your city. Bring your neighbors and friends. Every neighborhood can find solutions to issues–we don’t have to depend on the city, state, or federal governments for every single thing. They say when the people lead, the leaders follow. Well…?

    Be part of the solution. The stakes have never been higher. Speak up for justice. Now is the time. May peace and love prevail on Earth.

  10. Mimi

    Thank you, Audrey!

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