The Mutual Housing Association of Southwestern Connecticut created the Trumbull Townhomes on Oak Lane in Trumbull because of a need for affordable housing in the area.

After almost 10 years of planning, litigation and rezoning, the doors have finally opened for a 43-unit affordable housing development in a Bridgeport suburb.

The Mutual Housing Association of Southwestern Connecticut, a Fairfield County-based affordable housing developer, has spent the last decade creating the condominium association known as Trumbull Town Homes LLC to provide affordable housing in Trumbull. The work finally came to fruition in January, as the last units at the Trumbull Townhomes on Oak Lane were completed and sold.

Development of the units started back in 1993, and the developers very quickly ran up against strong opposition.

“It was classic NIMBY,” said Larry Kluetsch, executive director of the MHASC. “There was concern over what affordable housing might be. It was a fear of the unknown. Now I think people ride by and their first impression is that it can’t be affordable because they look as good as any of upscale houses in town.”

Over the course of several years, the MHASC eventually got the area rezoned to a Housing Opportunity Development Zone – one specifically created for affordable housing developments.

The MHASC spent several years in and out of court embroiled in litigation over the zoning before it eventually strenghtened its relationship with the town.

Trumbull selectmen, led by former First Selectman Kenneth Halaby, wanted to work with MHASC to ensure that the units were 100 percent affordable and that they would be owned, not rented.

“We were successful in that effort, and our relationship with the town has been wonderful ever since,” said Kluetsch.

“What happened in Trumbull during the last few years was that the housing market went crazy, and everyone got a little sticker shock. People started to realize that their children would never be able to afford Trumbull, or if they wanted to sell their house and downsize they couldn’t afford it,” said Kluetsch. “So eventually people began to embrace this development as a community asset – as something the town needed, rather than something the town needed to keep out.”

‘Balancing Act’
The Trumbull project represents the MHASC’s first homeownership development, and Kluetsch said the group wanted to prove that affordable housing could be a community asset and not a burden.

Ground was broken at the site in October 2000 and the condo association was formed last fall. Construction of the 43 residential units, a clubhouse and a recreation area was completed last month.

The homes are townhouse-style units on either two or three floors, and most units have an attached garage. Kluetsch noted that 450 prospective homeowners applied for housing.

All of the units have been sold, with the last two closing two weeks ago. Units have been selling for about $50,000 to $100,000 below the average market value for a comparable condo. One-bedroom units started at $110,500 and three-bedroom units started at $142,500.

Income qualifications for homeowners required that the household bring in less than 80 percent of the area median income. The area in this instance is Bridgeport and surrounding towns, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development establishes the median income.

The area median income is $75,000 for a family of four, and most of the families in the Trumbull Town House have incomes in the mid- to high- $30s.

“These are people who otherwise wouldn’t have any chance of owning houses,” said Kluetsch, adding that there is a wide income range within the development.

“We have a wonderfully diverse group with virtually every nationality and at least five different languages. This has really worked well and I think that most people are very happy,” said Kluetsch.

He noted that one reason the town has embraced the development is because many of those now living in the Trumbull Townhomes have a personal connection with Trumbull. Some grew up in the area while others have family members and friends that live in the town.

The development was made possible by a few substantial grants. The largest funding agent was the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, which donated $2.4 million to the project. The Federal Home Loan Bank and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. gave grants as well.

“We received almost $3 million in grants to help reduce the cost of housing. This is not easy, and it takes a lot of people,” said Kluetsch.

MHASC is now the property manager and is working with the condo association to set it up to effectively manage the development themselves. The group is also working hard to preserve the affordability of the units. In many cases, once an affordable home is purchased there is no oversight as to what happens next. MHASC will maintain control over the resale of the homes to ensure their affordability.

“We want to moderate the appreciation so that future generations will still find these homes affordable,” said Kluetsch. “It’s a balancing act to let these people build equity but keep the homes affordable.”

There are no restrictions on income levels once a family enters the home.

“You can hit the lottery tomorrow and you absolutely get to stay,” said Kluetsch. “You’ll be able to live in a wonderful unit, build equity, and hopefully use this as a stepping stone into a single-family home. But I imagine that some folks will like it here and stay here for 20 years.”

Prior to any units being sold, the MHASC provided homebuyer training to make sure that applicants were ready and understood what they were getting into. Of the 450 applicants, Kluetsch said that probably two-thirds were not in a position to purchase a unit because of credit and other issues. For those applicants there are programs on personal finance.

“You may not be ready to buy a home now, but work with us for two years and you will be,” he said.

With the success of the development, the MHASC has been welcomed into an affordable housing development network, and plans to create a similar development for Fairfield County’s senior citizens in the near future.

A dedication ceremony was scheduled to be held yesterday at the Trumbell Townhomes. Among those slated to be on hand to welcome new residents to the complex were Trumbull First Selectman Raymond Baldwin; Timothy Coppage, deputy commissioner, and Diane Smith, executive director, of the Connecticut DECD; and Ruth Price, vice president/community reinvestment officer of People’s Bank and MHASC president.