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.