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Affordable Housing Gets a Face

The terms "affordable housing" and "economic diversity" have different meanings to different people. For Westport resident Shannon Hanley, they aren't a stigma but rather key components that are missing in Westport.

The single mother and Hales Court resident spoke in favor of affordable housing at Thursday night's Planning and Zoning meeting after the commission introduced two text amendments designed to bring more affordable housing and economic diversity to Westport.

"For all their generosity, and Westporters are very generous, the perception that below market rate houses brings in below market rate people is one that needs to be flatly dismissed," said Hanley, who introduced herself as "the face of affordable housing."

Laurence Bradley, Planning and Zoning director, said the amendments will bring P&Z regulations in line with goals outlined in the 2007 Town Plan. One of the goals, he said, is to expand the variety of housing choices to help meet the needs of existing and future residents.

According to Ron Corwin, Planning and Zoning chairman, the state requires that 10 percent of a town's housing stock be affordable. In Westport, that figure is less than 3 percent. While the amendments won't immediately close the gap, he said they will help make progress.

If passed, the amendments would expand construction of two-family and multi-family units to new zones, including the General Business District, require 20 percent of these units to be affordable and allow multi-family units on mixed-use lots.

For Hanley, not having enough affordable housing is a deterrent to the community.

"You have teachers driving as far as an hour or barely scraping by, officers not being your neighbors in the community they protect, and community volunteers, such as me, not coaching your children on the weekends," she said.

Steve Daniels, a member of the Human Services Commission, also noted that affordable housing would benefit senior citizens who are downsizing.

"This is not about bringing in the wrong people," Daniels said. "It's really about seniors moving into something smaller."

Discussion on affordable housing will continue on Oct. 7.

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