The status of senior affordable housing in Fairfield County
Darien has 30 units of senior affordable housing set aside for seniors at 719 Post Road, in a development called the Old Town Hall Housing. Currently, each of the apartments is filled; the waiting list has about 50 names on it, and is closed.
"It's a lot of people when you consider the fact that we only have 30 units," said Kathy Molgano, director of the Darien Housing Authority, which manages the property. "Our waiting list is closed at the present time. So, is it evidence that there's a demand for this type of housing? I would say yes."
When the waiting list is open, DHA assigns seniors priority based on need, rather than creating a chronological list, Molgano said. The DHA determines this "need" by examining an applicant's present living situation and the percentage of his or her monthly income spent on housing costs such as rent and utilities, according to Molgano.
"They're assigned points on the basis of need, then put on the waiting list in order by points. It's really impossible to predict how long an applicant might remain on the waiting list, because it depends on where they fall on that list, and it depends on the turnover, which is pretty impossible to predict," she said.
In Westport, there are 50 units of senior affordable housing; like in Darien, they are all one-bedroom and efficiency units located in a single development. The waiting list there has more than 200 names, and is currently closed, according to Martin.
"The demand is huge," she said.
If the WHA hadn't closed the list, the number would be closer to 400, according to Martin.
"The demand in Fairfield County is probably twice as great as across the state of Connecticut. For folks who have lived and worked in Fairfield County, who find themselves not able to pay property taxes on fixed incomes -- things that happen as folks get older -- and they want to remain in their community, there's absolutely no options," Martin said.
"All their friends are there, and most of their relatives. To not have a natural transition place for housing for folks that have been viable and very important human assets to the community over the years is not a good thing," she said.
The more affordable units for seniors in Fairfield County, the better, Martin said.
"There's just not enough of this," she said. "I think, what Darien is doing, I salute them."
Last month, Darien's Republican First Selectman David Campbell announced his idea to create roughly two dozen units of affordable housing, specifically for Darien's senior population.
The proposal, which is in the preliminary stages, features 800-square-foot bungalows, which would be made available to Darienites on a points system, offering priority levels based on years lived in town and income, according to Campbell. Current drawings include 20 units, but Campbell said that could be pushed to 26. This would increase the number of senior affordable units in Darien to 56.
It would be constructed at 30 Edgerton St., the site of the current senior center, which Campbell has proposed razing. The fact that this project is being proposed on town land is a major plus, according to Martin.
"The number one deterrent to building senior affordable housing is the land costs in Fairfield County," she said. "Our average land cost in Westport is $1 million an acre, so you cant build affordable units with the financing, when the cost of land is so exorbitant."
But the Edgerton property isn't the only town property that should be examined, according to Democratic Selectman Callie Sullivan.
"We were on track to build affordable housing at [35 Leroy Ave.] and it was very possible that five, seven or 10 units could be for seniors. We walked away from that; that could be happening right now," Sullivan said.
The project at the former library site was part of the Town's Affordable Housing Plan, which the Board of Selectmen approved last year.
The idea of integrating senior affordable housing units into larger projects is something the town should consider when moving forward, Sullivan said.
"You absolutely want to have spaces set aside for them, but you want the communities to be integrated. You want there to be some seniors living beside some families, living beside some single people," Sullivan said. "The benefit of that is you don't have areas where, for example, you're going to have too many new kids moving into a school system.
"It's more of a mirror of your town. Our town doesn't have separate neighborhoods for different ages, and that's what you want in affordable housing, you want it to be more of a mirror of your town, and not something that's different," she said.
The Westport Housing Authority is currently constructing 19 additional units of affordable housing for seniors as part of a new 78-unit project, which will be replacing an existing 40-unit affordable housing development that currently has no designated spaces for seniors. These new units will bring the town's total up to 59 units of senior affordable housing.
In New Canaan, there are 40 units of designated senior affordable housing, according to Melba Neville, the assistant director of Human Services. These units are located in the Schoolhouse Apartments on South Avenue. Like Darien and Westport, the New Canaan facility has a wait list.
"We have seniors who live in our other complexes that are mixed ages," Neville said. "The complexes are over 30 years old, so they've been around for a long time, and a lot of people have just aged in place in them."
There are also other senior housing options in town, including an assisted living facility, but as far as designated senior affordable housing, the 40 units at Schoolhouse are it; and the town has no plans to create more in the near future, according to Neville.
The Greenwich Housing Authority manages about 1,100 units of affordable housing in the town, according to Executive Director Anthony Johnson. Of those units, 291 are designated for seniors; that's roughly one in four, according to Johnson. The town's waitlist for seniors currently has 172 names on it.
"That's more than half the number of people we have housed, which means that is probably a three-to-four-year wait to get in," he said.
"I think the thing is that senior housing and the population continues to age, and if you're trying to help seniors age in place, which is a good thing for a community, it would be great to really do an analysis of where you expect your population to be over the next 10 years," Johnson said. "We know ours is going to increase, because we did a market study."
The GHA currently has plans on the table to create an additional 52 units of senior housing in town, he said.
"The same people who live and raise their families and work in town should be able to live their once they're no longer able to work," he said.