Is Housing in Fairfield County Fair?
Apr 24, 2020
By Contributing Editor: Christie Stewart,
Director of Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity
There is nothing fair about housing in Fairfield County. Thirty-one percent of our 335,000 households pay so much for housing that they struggle to afford other basic necessities, like childcare, medication, food, education, and transportation.1 We are one of the most residentially racially segregated counties in the country.2 And the hourly wage needed for a household to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in Fairfield County is approximately $37 per hour, which equates to more than $70,000 in annual income.3
What does this mean?
Simply put, it means that most young families, seniors, and young adults cannot afford to live in the Fairfield County communities where they work or go to school, where they retired, where they graduated from high school or college, or where they grew up and hoped to return to raise their own families.
It means that the essential workers that we all rely on in our daily lives — retail clerks, restaurant staff, teachers, firemen, healthcare workers, landscapers, construction workers and many more – those faces that make up our communities – cannot actually live in our communities.
It means that if you are a child of color in Fairfield County, you are 36 times more likely to live in poverty than your white neighbors.4 36 times!
Access to housing is at the core of Fairfield County’s economic viability
As data continue to show that a child’s zip code5, more than any other factor, determines their access to opportunity and lifetime achievement across a myriad of metrics, it is imperative that Fairfield County take a deep look at housing opportunity and how it is driving the growing disparity among neighborhoods and communities.
Access to housing that is safe and affordable is at the core of Fairfield County’s economic viability. If we do not address it in a smart and thoughtful manner as a region — if we continue to place our own self-interests above those of our larger community — we risk accelerating the socio-economic trends that continue to depress our local economies and unravel our communities – decreased school enrollments, decreased grand lists, increased poverty in our urban centers, and a startling disparity in educational and health outcomes for our youth.
While Fairfield County is technically comprised of 23 separate municipalities, we share one regional economy, one public transportation system, and one housing market. Regardless of longstanding tradition, local rule, and town affiliation, in 2020 we are completely regionally interdependent. We move between these 23 towns to work, learn, shop, see doctors, eat out and recreate. As a region, we will rise or fall with our ability to meet the housing needs of all county residents, especially those who make the unique quality of life here possible.
This is where Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity (FCCHO) comes in
In 2019, four organizations currently committed to tackling this complex issue in Fairfield County came together to align their resources and expertise to deliver solutions to our regional housing challenges. Supportive Housing Works6, Partnership for Strong Communities7, Regional Plan Association8, and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation braided together their expertise in housing policy, regional initiative organization, legislative advocacy, urban planning, public policy research, and community convening to create Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity. Designed as a regional, collaborative initiative, FCCHO is working to ensure the entire region stands together to strategically, and equitably align its housing resources to best meet the needs of all Fairfield County residents.
How can Fairfield County residents help ensure safe and affordable housing for all?
We need a wide range of housing options for a wide range of different people in various towns throughout the region if we are to ensure Fairfield County’s future economic viability and community vibrancy.
How can we do this? At FCCHO we have begun by bringing together over seventy partners from across the county, representing leadership in multiple sectors impacted by housing, to form the Fairfield County Housing Alliance (FCHA). FCHA partners bring vastly diverse perspectives to this work but elevate their common interest in housing as foundational to their success.
Educators know that a stable home is critical for student achievement. Medical professionals and healthcare systems understand that 70% of health outcomes are determined by environment – known as the “social determinants of health.” Employers are keenly aware that attracting and retaining their workforce requires diverse housing options in close proximity to their operations. Local governments, dependent on taxes to meet their operating budgets, understand that shrinking property tax rolls are not sustainable and that their small businesses cannot operate without a stable workforce. Housing is everyone’s issue. And it’s an issue it will take everyone to address.
Housing challenges were traditionally left to individual towns to address. Now, we have an unprecedented alliance of stakeholders committed to collaborating on regional solutions to housing challenges. This is a huge step in the right direction for Fairfield County. Together, Fairfield County Housing Alliance members are working toward aligning resources to support the production, preservation and protection of housing that creates opportunities for thriving, equitable communities and a healthy, regional economy.
FCCHO realizes the enormity of what we have set out to do and we know that this is a marathon and not a sprint. We are beginning by building and strengthening relationships and connections throughout the region to elevate the common housing goals of all Fairfield County residents. We are starting a new conversation about housing. This new conversation will leave old stereotypes and rhetoric behind and instead, looks to a future where every Fairfield County child, regardless of race or socio-economic status, has access to opportunity. As parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, how can we do otherwise?
So this Fair Housing month, please take a moment to consider how you, as a resident of Fairfield County, can help to ensure that all members of your community can find a safe and affordable place to live. Reflect on the housing needs of everyone who contributes to your daily quality of life and commit to thinking about housing opportunity in a new way.
1 ALICE in Fairfield County: Point-in-Time Data
2 The Washington Post – America is more diverse than ever – but still segregated
3 Partnership for Strong Communities – Housing Data Profiles
4 Fairfield County 2019 Community Wellbeing Index
5 Opportunity Insights – Neighborhoods Matter – Children’s lives are shaped by the neighborhoods they grow up in
6 Supportive Housing Works
7 Partnership for Strong Communities
8 Regional Plan Association
Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity
As the Director of Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity, Christie Stewart brings over a decade of non-profit management and leadership experience in the homeless services sector to her role. A strong background in business and fund development, strategic partnerships, and organizational planning have been instrumental in the startup and launch of FCCHO, a partnership between Supportive Housing Works, Regional Plan Association, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, and Partnership for Strong Communities created in 2019 to form a regional response to the affordable housing crisis in Fairfield County. Christie earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Duke University. She lives in Weston, CT with her husband and children.