By Dave Goldenberg
As chair of Ridgefield’s Affordable Housing Committee, I’ve been puzzled by the politicization of Ridgefield’s affordable housing plan—and by the misinformation that has been spread to undermine it (nobody is going to build 1,000 units or take away the dog park!). If we step back and take stock of what’s actually in the plan, we’ll see why supporting it is in the best interest of all Ridgefielders, regardless of party affiliation. (Full disclosure: I’m an unaffiliated voter.)
To begin, let’s stipulate two facts:
- We need more affordable housing. Our town, county, state and country are in the midst of a well-documented housing affordability crisis, which the current price surge is only exacerbating. More than 30% of Ridgefield households are “housing-cost burdened,” meaning they expend over 30% of their income on housing.
- The state has an interest in meeting that need. Most Ridgefielders are familiar with Sec. 8-30g, a well-intended but clumsy regulation that allows builders to circumvent local zoning—provided they set aside 30% of the units as affordable. Every legislative session, more bills of this type are introduced to mandate local changes in order to add affordable housing.
So, more affordable housing is coming. The question is, do we want to create it our way, or do we want the state to tell us what to do? I would assume all Ridgefielders, regardless of party affiliation, would opt for local control.
Doing nothing, as some suggest, is not an option. First, the state requires every town to submit an affordable housing plan, no excuses. Second, Ridgefield has always been growing and changing, and rather than fight it, we should plan to accommodate growth in a smart way. That smart way is at the heart of our own affordable housing plan.
To draft our plan we sought input from all Ridgefield stakeholders, through surveys, interviews and multiple public meetings. The draft is currently being revised to accommodate feedback from the Board of Selectmen, the Planning & Zoning Commission and the general public. It targets the addition of a modest 125 affordable units over the next five years, which not only is achievable but would also lead the town to our next moratorium, a four-year break from Sec. 8-30g.
Any development generated by the plan would be subject to the scrutiny you would expect—with evaluations for traffic, environmental and economic impact, infrastructure requirements —as well as all the necessary public approvals. Again, without taking action under the plan, Ridgefield will be vulnerable to further development under Sec. 8-30g, triggering automatic overruling of most of our town’s zoning guidelines and no public input.
Every day, I am confronted with stories of Ridgefielders who—due to changes in family or employment circumstances—can no longer afford to stay in town. I meet workers in town who are forced to travel long distances to the job due to lack of affordable housing. I hear from Ridgefielders who wish there were a place in town for their elderly parents or grown children.
Need doesn’t belong to a political party, and dividing ourselves into red and blue teams on this issue serves only to deny help to people who require it. Let’s face our housing needs not as Democrats or Republicans but as compassionate Ridgefielders.
Dave Goldenberg is chair of the nine-member Ridgefield Affordable Housing Committee, which developed and approved the draft plan now being revised. In its current form, “The Home Front: Ridgefield Affordable Housing Plan,” published in April, can be found here. Any opinions expressed are solely the author’s own.
Photo caption: Webpage capture of the Connecticut Department of Housing’s town-by-town searchable site for affordable housing, cthousingsearch.org. There are waiting lists for all of the Ridgefield listings at the site.