Fairfield County’s Community Foundation and partners nationally recognized for work addressing affordable housing through the Fairfield County Center for Housing Opportunity
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is receiving the 2023 Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships, a national award issued annually by the Council on Foundations and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The award, now in its 11th year, honors grantmakers and their public-sector collaborators who together create innovative, place-based initiatives with lasting impact on housing and community development. The Community Foundation was recognized for its critical role in the creation of the Fairfield County Center for Housing Opportunity (FCCHO). FCCHO is a strategic partnership that is working to address Fairfield County’s housing shortage through a coordinated, regional response. FCCHO was founded in 2018 as a strategic partnership between Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, The Housing Collective, Partnership for Strong Communities and Regional Plan Association, with critical funding from JPMorgan Chase to seed and scale FCCHO.
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF) is a co-creator and driving force behind FCCHO. In five short years, the Center has become a leading regional advocate for affordable housing development and its success has led to the creation of similar centers in Litchfield County and Eastern Connecticut.
Utilizing a collaborative, data-driven regional approach, the FCCHO cross-sector partnership strives to reduce the percentage of cost-burdened households in Fairfield County, while expanding and protecting existing housing affordability. The ultimate vision of the FCCHO is to make housing affordable to people of all incomes and at all stages of life.
“Equitable access to safe, stable, affordable housing in communities of opportunity is the foundation of a thriving community,” said Mendi Blue Paca, CEO and president of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. “Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has a long history of making impactful investments in housing equity and FCCHO is a key part of that continued work.”
Through a collaborative, research-based process, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation led the formation of the Fairfield County Collaborative Fund for Affordable Housing in 2006. Over 10 years, this collaborative group of funders awarded $4.8 million and developed nearly 1,000 affordable housing units. Today, in addition to its support of the Housing Center, the foundation grants more than $500,000 annually to support organizations working to ensure that all residents have safe, stable, and affordable housing in communities of opportunity.
Fairfield County, home to 335,000 households spanning 23 cities and towns, has the second highest income inequality in the nation. The lowest opportunity areas are concentrated in three urban centers – Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport, in which 16 of Connecticut’s 72 Opportunity zones are located.
Until recently, the need for a larger supply of publicly subsidized housing units was not well understood at the county level and there had been no standardized data collection across the region or state. More granular data on the subsidized housing supply has only been made public in recent years due to the efforts of FCCHO’s partnership with the Connecticut Department of Housing.
The FCCHO data shows that 52 percent of Fairfield County households are cost-burdened, meaning that households spend more than 30 percent of their income to secure housing. Additionally, 56,984 households with an income between 0 and 30 percent of Fairfield County’s area median income ($92,969) and 40,088 households in the 30 to 50 percent AMI band are facing an affordable housing shortage of 25,374 units.
The housing crisis has disproportionate effects across racial and geographic lines and, challenged with lacking county infrastructure, Fairfield County has struggled to scale effective housing solutions to meet the needs of its most under-resourced residents.
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has been a driving force behind the establishment of the FCCHO, bringing a unique county-wide perspective to housing work. Individual municipalities have limited capacity to make a meaningful dent in the deficit of housing units, and the burden has generally fallen on urban centers.
“While the facts about the lack of affordable housing in Fairfield County may surprise many people, the data is stark and symptomatic of a housing crisis that has not been addressed fast enough,” said Aicha Woods, director of FCCHO. “We’re are taking steps in the right direction, but increasing affordable housing is a complex problem that deserves the time and attention of all the municipalities in the region.”
The FCCHO has provided valuable resources, such as the AffordCT open source housing database, the Planning for Affordability Guidebook and the Affordable Housing Plan Scorecards. These tools help municipalities better understand local housing needs and how to respond to them, while FCCHO’s collaborative approach allows partners to think creatively about how to address housing needs county-wide.
Additionally, FCCHO monitors progress of its goals for equitable regional development against a comprehensive results framework developed in collaboration with Urban Institute's Race Equity Analytics Lab. This approach allows FCCHO to encourage commitment and keep stakeholders accountable for executing projects in accordance with best practices and state goals.
“Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s collaborative approach and commitment to innovative, regional approaches like FCCHO is changing the narrative around affordable housing and aligning resources to create more affordable homes in one of the most expensive and segregated regions in the country," said Melissa Kaplan-Macey, vice president state programs and Connecticut director of the Regional Plan Association (RPA). “This award represents the important impact we can have when we come together as strategic partners, leverage one another’s strengths and expertise, coordinate our actions, and create a new momentum for change."
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is partnering with our community to create a county where every person has an equitable opportunity to thrive. We work closely with community organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and philanthropists to address challenges and identify opportunities to create a stronger, more vibrant community. Informed by three decades of partnering with and serving our community, we have awarded more than $390 million in grants to nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond. Learn more at FCCFoundation.org. Sign up for Foundation email updates here. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
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