By John Schwing

WESTPORT — A major initiative in the town’s strategy to increase the local inventory of affordable housing is a step closer to approval.

A resolution to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which would “accumulate and administer” funding to preserve and build affordable units in town, was approved Tuesday night by the Representative Town Meeting’s Ordinance Committee.

The proposal, which won the committee’s unanimous approval following revisions to the resolution’s language, will face a vote by the full legislative body at its Oct. 3 meeting.

A trust fund to help finance affordable housing projects is one of the major elements in the state-mandated “Affordable Housing Plan” adopted by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission in June 2022.

Sources of revenue for the fund, according to the resolution, could include fees imposed on permits from the town’s Planning and Zoning Department and Building Department, as well as “inclusionary zoning fees, monetary gifts, grants, loans, and monies received from local, state and federal agencies.” 

A specific fee schedule is not included in the resolution. If the ordinance is approved by the RTM, the Planning and Zoning Commission then would adopt rules to set fees to provide revenue for the fund. Use of the fund, including investment dividends and donations, would be restricted to affordable housing projects.

The trust fund would be overseen by a panel of five members, all appointed by the first selectperson. No more than three of those appointees can be from the same political party.

Seth Braunstein, District 6, one of the resolution sponsors, said the fund is envisioned as a tool “to help the town become more directed and self-sufficient in terms of addressing the desire to accelerate an affordable housing plan.”

It’s a “funding mechanism,” he said, to help develop more affordable housing “in our community, by our community.”

Matthew Mandell, District 1, who co-sponsored the resolution, further explained the ordinance has a two-fold purpose: First, to create the “vessel” to accrue the money, namely, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and second, to establish oversight on how the money is spent, which is the role of the five-person committee.

The fund has been proposed, he added, to follow through on an idea proposed in the town’s Affordable Housing Plan, as well as the state’s directives, which “gives us more control over doing it ourselves.”

Braunstein noted that seven other communities statewide, six of them in Fairfield County, have already established similar bodies. 

And, Mandell added, much of the proposed ordinance’s language is based on housing fund regulations adopted by other communities, so “it’s not something new,” but has been “massaged” to reflect Westport interests.

Ordinance Committee members’ comments on the proposal, other than suggested changes in wording, focused primarily on ensuring that any allocation of money from the fund conforms with the standard, multi-board approval process set by the Town Charter and not by the trust fund committee acting on its own.

John Schwing, the Westport Journal consulting editor, has held senior editorial and writing posts at southwestern Connecticut media outlets for four decades. Learn more about us here.