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Finding a path to affordable housing

There is little dispute about the need for more and better affordable housing to be available in the Northwest Corner. Such housing may be geared toward different age groups who are in need of it. But the general consensus, according to multiple studies done by towns, nonprofits and agencies here, is that with the population trending older and fewer young families finding a way to live in this region, housing for such families would be the most desirable and beneficial to the life of the community to find a way to build.

After all, with the census at the regional schools dropping, the numbers just don’t work long term past a certain breaking point, and several of the schools in the area districts are approaching that point or are there. The reaction to Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed consolidation of schools statewide was strongly resistant, but how long can individual schools operate if the staff has fewer and fewer children and families to serve?

One group in Falls Village is trying to address the issue head-on with a proposal for 28 new affordable housing units, in cluster housing on River Road, off Route 7. Reporter Patrick Sullivan wrote last week (May 2) in The Lakeville Journal about a public hearing of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission April 25, where the Falls Village Housing Trust presented its plans to the public. At that hearing, concerns came up about increased traffic and the large scope of the project. The siting of the housing was also called into question, with no services within walking distance as is the case with other towns’ affordable units. 

The plans have already gone through part of the approval process, but that was only after 10 years of strategizing and careful thought by the volunteers who saw the need for action on affordable housing for Falls Village. Some of them now make up the Falls Village Housing Trust. But there were even more volunteers who made up an advisory group and the preliminary housing trust before it became the formalized 501(c)3 nonprofit now working to make this vision of a welcoming place for all generations a reality.

It’s a state Department of Housing loan of just under $200,000 that has gotten the trust this far, able to hire knowledgeable consultants, architects and engineers who understand the process and have done this before. Falls Village and Goshen were the only two municipalities in Connecticut that had not taken any concrete steps to try to meet the state’s request for a portion of all housing in every town and city to meet the state’s standards of being affordable. 

Now, with this project the Falls Village Housing Trust is proposing, that will be amended. The group’s vision includes green space, a community garden and a net zero energy rating, as well as the one, two and three bedroom units with garages and parking spaces attached to them. The goal is to begin with 14 units, spread out among four different building designs that would hold a total of 25 bedrooms. Once that first phase is complete, the next phase of the same amount of housing could happen. It’s a graduated approach that will give the trust a chance to see the response to their providing such cluster housing for the community. 

But there are still multiple steps that have to happen in order for ground to  be broken on this project. Kudos to the many volunteers who have spent countless hours already to bring Falls Village into the mix of towns that can offer affordable housing to attract newcomers, as well as help current residents stay in their town. It will take many more volunteer hours on the part of the board to implement what is still a concept, but the outcome of their work should positively affect their town, and the surrounding towns as well.