Norwalk Drafts Rules for an Affordable Housing Account and Appointed Committee

Sono One (Credit Google Map Data, 2022)

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NORWALK – Facing a statewide shortage of affordable housing, city officials drafted an ordinance establishing a non-lapsing Affordable Housing Account to fund the development of additional housing in the city. 

By law, all city funding – with the exception of the Norwalk Tree Account and Cannabis Account – must be spent by the end of the year. The new ordinance, if approved, would allow the city also to maintain a permanent account of fees collected from developers.

Nora Niedzielski-Eichner, a member of city council, said that under the ordinance, construction applications would be reviewed by a new Affordable Housing Account Committee composed of stakeholders and city officials appointed by the mayor.

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Niedzielski-Eichner told CT Examiner that the intention of the committee was to use dollars to leverage other dollars. 

She said most federal and state grants had a matching component in which Norwalk must cover 10 to 30 percent of the grant, which was difficult to do under a tightly-controlled operating budget.

“The hope is that if we have a fund like this, we can be in the running for those larger grants that could help us build larger developments where a higher percentage of them are affordable.”

Niedzielski-Eichner said the new committee members would include city council members, two residents – one renting and one owning affordable housing – and members of the Community Service, Redevelopment Agency and Planning and Zoning departments. 

“The idea is to have all the people who have expertise sitting around the table and sort of picking the best way to maximize the use of the funds that are available,” Niedzielski-Eichner said.

In March 2022, Norwalk created a temporary Affordable Housing Committee in compliance with state affordability statutes. They began drafting the newest ordinance in April.

Niedzielski-Eichner said the Affordable Housing Committee received feedback from various city departments and would discuss the ordinance again at the end of the month. If they vote to move it forward, the Ordinance Committee would review the language. 

“We’re going to go through with a fine tooth comb to make sure that it aligns with the Tree Account and the Cannabis Account,” said Margaret Shanahan, chair of the Ordinance Committee, at a Tuesday meeting.

If accepted by the Ordinance Committee, the Common Council must then give final approval.

Niedzielski-Eichner said she hoped the ordinance would be done by January, but acknowledged that Norwalk had more work to do.

“It’s not that we’re saying that this is sufficient,” she explained. “We’re just really pursuing every angle we can, while also keeping property taxes low.”

She said the Common Council understood that citizens needed more affordable housing. In the meantime, Niedzielski-Eichner explained, there were other initiatives available to residents.

“The governor has put forward quite a bit of rental assistance,” she said. “And we really encourage folks to apply for that if they think they qualify.”

Locally, Niedzielski-Eichner said, residents could take advantage of property tax rebates for struggling homeowners, nonprofit organizations like Open Doors and multi-unit developments with affordability components.

She said residents could also contact Community Services to explain their situation and a representative would help them determine which programs they qualify for.

“We really are trying to cover the spectrum of every option to create more affordable housing,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “And this fund, we hope, will be an important part of that.”