Alexis Harrison, a Fairfield native and well-known advocate on zoning and affordable housing, announced she is running for a two-year term on the Plan and Zoning Commission in Fairfield.
Harrison has served as co-president of Fairfielders Protecting Land and Neighborhoods, a local advocacy organization dedicated to “good government and environmental stewardship.” As a member of CT169strong, spoke out against housing bill HB6611 and an earlier version of HB6107, which would have diminished local control of zoning.
What should the state’s role be in providing affordability for Connecticut residents?
First of all, Connecticut ranks 49th in housing development, because of the outmigration from the state. That’s basically due to the lack of opportunity, jobs and just the high taxes that we’ve been facing here in Connecticut. Property values and building in the state have stalled.
The economics must work for builders to develop projects. Young people are mobile and they want to seek job opportunities first — they want to go live where the jobs are. They tend to live together post-college to deal with the higher cost of cities. Jobs really need to come first when we talk about affordability in Connecticut and then housing follows that. I think effective housing policy is created by enlisting a balanced working group that includes [both] housing advocates and municipal stakeholders from all over the state. The group must be inclusive of small town and suburban planning boards, historians, and environmental experts.
I think it’s really an economic issue when we talk about affordability and housing in Connecticut.
How can we better integrate Connecticut?
I don’t think we’re a segregated state. I think when we talk about integrating Connecticut, we’re talking about that generational wealth, and I think we need to do better and empower homeownership … to help individuals and families get on that buying ladder, which I think ultimately increases that generational wealth.
WestCOG [lower Fairfield County] only has 16 percent of the total population in the state, yet we’ve created 29 percent of the new housing and 39 percent of the multifamily housing in the state. I think that tells us there’s a demand in this area of Fairfield County. People are taking advantage of the economic vibrancy of New York, but legislators really have to find a way to bring this back to the entire state, because I think with a better economic, tax and the business-friendly public policy will create a more integrated state. We won’t have the haves and the have nots.
Where should CT prioritize the construction of affordable housing?
I think affordable housing should be built in areas of town or city that are near the transit centers, shopping, restaurants and other amenities. I would love to see affordable housing that blends well with both the already built environment and the natural environment. We see a lot of buildings in Fairfield that are four to five stories now and they just don’t really blend well with the character of our town.
I think we really need to have appropriate building in the appropriate place. Some of these buildings are being built in places where people really can’t go shop and where they can’t walk to the train station quickly. I personally think our TPZ and Fairfield Town Planning and Zoning [often] do a good job of considering the unique aspects that were our town’s infrastructure with the goals of pedestrian walkways, design standards and the built and natural environment. I think we do a lot of good work in Fairfield when it comes to affordable housing, but certainly we need to bring it back to the areas where people can shop and where they can hop on a train or a bus line.
Are towns obligated to provide housing for people of all income levels? Why or why not?
I think in order to keep a town diverse, we have to provide housing that meets the needs of a diverse population — many teachers, firemen, police officers and municipal workers can’t always afford to live in the town where they work. We also have senior populations who want to downsize after retirement, but smaller single floor homes are just not available or affordable for them in Fairfield. We have two universities, so we have graduating seniors who have been here for four years and they have invested in our town in many ways, yet they can’t afford to stay here. Having a town that is diverse, rich in community and has multigenerations of families residing can only strengthen Fairfield.
I look at my own family — my parents are here, my siblings and their children are here — and it’s great we have that connective tissue in Fairfield. That has to continue and we can only do it when our town provides affordable housing, but again it has to be done in a way that’s that meets demand of all the stakeholders — the environmental people, the housing advocates, a lot of different folks at the table.
Our Town Plan and Zoning Commission has done a great of evaluating those factors. They don’t always vote for projects — they’ve approved some, rejected others, based on their best judgment of the regulations and with due consideration to neighborhood concerns, and I applaud them for not only for their commitment to neighborhoods but also to to affordable housing.
Should Connecticut expand the use of “as of right” decision-making at the local level?
No, I don’t believe Connecticut should expand the use of as-of-right decision-making at the local level. I do not accept any premise that Hartford and lawmakers know our 169 towns and cities better than local town governments and planning boards. I think when Hartford expands that as-of-right decision making, they remove local decision making from municipalities and planning boards who know our towns best.