Connecticut looks to Norwalk to solve housing crisis

Looking for a place to live? Then you know Connecticut has a severe housing shortage.
On Monday, state leaders hailed a new development in Norwalk as the answer. But will smaller towns, eager to protect their quaint New England charm, embrace more housing
NORWALK BUILDING BOOM
Dana and her dogs love their morning walks by the South Norwalk train station. But with new high-rise apartments springing up, the neighborhood is changing fast.
“This was – yeah, like a small community-type of neighborhood,” she said. “But now it’s so big.”
Another project is coming soon. By 2025, an empty lot at 15 Chestnut St. will become a seven story, 200-unit development. Part of it will be income-restricted “workforce housing” – a key component of Gov. Ned Lamont’s economic development plan.
“We have more than 100,000 jobs open,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz told reporters at a Monday news conference. “So in order to bring more people to fill those jobs, we need market and affordable housing.”
HOUSING SHORTAGE
Despite Norwalk’s growth, Connecticut has a severe housing shortage. Hundreds of millions of state dollars are available to developers – but in many towns, restrictive zoning rules make it difficult to build.
This year, state lawmakers approved “Fair Share” housing quotas for each community, but they're only voluntary. Legislators abandoned a mix of incentives and penalties – including lawsuits – to force compliance.
Top Democrats might try again next year.
“I think it will come back up,” said Norwalk state Sen. Bob Duff, the Connecticut Senate Democratic leader. “We have to get what can pass in the House and the Senate, and signed by the governor. And what we think is the right idea – versus what we can pass – may be two different things.”
Duff leads a new affordable housing task force to recommend legislation. But during its first meeting, old disagreements already bubbled up between developers and suburban towns.
THE NORWALK MODEL?
Bysiewicz said South Norwalk is a model for the rest of Connecticut. But in “The Land of Steady Habits,” many communities worry that a building boom will destroy their small-town charm.
Norwalk’s redevelopment director said it doesn’t have to.
“What may work for Norwalk may not work for a smaller town,” said Brian Bidolli, executive director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. “But at the end of the day, working with the developer, trying to negotiate what that looks like with your community, I think is the first step.”
Neighbors like Dana are excited to see the changes, but also a little nervous.
“We'll see what happens with it,” she said. “Not quite sure a lot of people will be able to stay around here because of that.”
To make sure existing neighbors can afford to stay, the city of Norwalk is getting $6 million for a nearby affordable housing complex and infrastructure improvements.