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Letter: Let’s Take “Junk Food” Development Off the Menu

It’s obvious that the Town’s housing consultant, David Fink, was importuned by town officials to write a response to United for Woodbridge, a group of citizens who oppose the sale of publicly owned open space for a massive housing development.  His attempt to “clean up” his previous statements and align them with the administration’s political goals is disingenuous at best, and is easy to refute by simply quoting his presentation verbatim.

United for Woodbridge stated that experts, including Mr. Fink, agreed that “walkable neighborhoods, with easy access to daily shopping needs and to public transportation, are the best places for dense housing of all kinds, including age restricted and affordable housing.”

In his first appearance in town, back in May 2014, in a discussion focused on general housing needs in Woodbridge, Mr. Fink recommended encouraging the development of “smaller units close to the town center, near the doctor, the pharmacy, the church and other services.”  Throughout Mr. Fink’s recent (10/25/2021) presentation, on multiple slides, he emphasized the importance of transit and locating affordable housing near public transportation.

Specifically, in response to a question from the First Selectman, Mr. Fink said, “There are towns that have bus lines, and if you can put housing that’s walkable to the bus, that’s good, but otherwise, putting it near a highway is good, at least people can get on and off pretty quickly, otherwise it’s best to put it…where people will tolerate the density, where it’s not going to mess up their neighborhood…Woodbridge has the area down near the Merritt, maybe that’s the best place…”.

“Density is tolerable and advantageous in some places…and conversely affordability is not as valuable in some places.  There are rural towns or rural areas in some towns where if you built an affordable unit for somebody and they had to buy a $500 clunker that got 8 miles to the gallon and was going to break down every two weeks have you really done that household a favor?  Probably not.  So, it’s really good to put housing where people will tolerate it, you’ll reduce the chance of acrimony, and if you put it in a good place, you’ll provide the residents with access to the services that they need.  Attendant benefits are that you will reduce sprawl, cut auto emissions, and enhance mass transit.”

It’s clear, despite his attempt to deny it, that the United for Woodbridge information accurately reflects Mr. Fink’s presentations.

Next, Mr. Fink’s letter tries to quibble over the assertion by United for Woodbridge that Woodbridge is not an outlier in having relatively little legally affordable housing.  Nobody disputes the fact that only 31 of Connecticut’s 169 towns have more than 10% legally affordable housing.  Looking further into the data, it becomes even more clear that Woodbridge is no outlier.  Of the 72 small towns in Connecticut (population of 10,000 or less), only two have more than 10% legally affordable housing.  I fully stand by the characterization of Woodbridge not being an outlier on this measure.

Finally, Mr. Fink tries to dispute the assertion that Woodbridge currently has a significant amount of housing that is “naturally” affordable.  The Arbor Haven proposal priced its 3-bedroom legally affordable homes at $265,000.  According to the Town tax assessor’s database, there are more than 300 homes in Woodbridge appraised at $250,000 or less.  Mr. Fink claimed that individuals making $60,000 per year would not be able to afford such homes.  Even if true, that is irrelevant, since these are not homes for one person, they are mostly 3- and 4-bedroom family homes.  Thus, the family income threshold should apply.  The ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) threshold in CT for a family of four is $90,000 so a $250,000 home would indeed be affordable for them.

In trying to backpedal on his previous statements and retroactively align himself with the administration’s push to develop the CCW, Mr. Fink made the analogy that if someone is starving, any additional nourishment is acceptable.  The analogy fails because Woodbridge is not starving – we have a smorgasbord of nutritional options available to us.  Thus far, we have only been offered junk food – a short-term sugar high that will not provide sustainable long-term health for the town.

Cathy Wick, United for Woodbridge

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