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Tuesday, July 23 Local

Developers donate affordable housing in Washington to Habitat

WASHINGTON — An affordable housing complex near Lake Waramaug has a better chance of being completed faster now that Housatonic Habitat for Humanity is at the helm.

The developers of the Myfield development, Winston Fowlkes and Joseph Gitterman, donated the remaining eight lots to Habitat a few weeks ago, making it the largest land donation Housatonic Habitat for Humanity has received.

“It’s astounding,” said Fran Normann, executive director of Housatonic Habitat for Humanity. “It is a game changer for us.”

She added that they’re excited to continue Fowlkes and Gitterman’s vision.

Since the plan was approved about a decade ago, six houses have been built, five of which are classified as affordable.

Gitterman said he and Fowlkes decided to donate the project because they are in their 80s and wanted to hand it over to a group that shares their view and can get it done faster. Their realtor had suggested Habitat as a good fit for the donation.

“We’ve been at this for years,” Gitterman said. “The important thing from our point of view is the community is going to have families who work in the area in affordable housing and not be locked out of the area.”

People making a median income are unable to afford to live in about 71 percent of Connecticut’s towns and cities, Normann said.

She said this is why it’s so important to increase the amount of affordable housing. Habitat works with families who are at about 66 percent of the median household income. The organization provides zero percent mortgages and requires the families to not only invest sweat hours into building the home, but complete financial education components too.

That 66 percent threshold varies wildly depending on the town.

In the Danbury area, that figure ranges from about $40,000 in Kent to $96,300 in Ridgefield. Danbury is about $43,100. All are roughly that figure for the U.S., which is about $34,300.

Washington’s median household income is about $81,400, putting the 66 percent threshold at about $53,700.

Normann said it’s important to have a variety of housing options.

“That’s important for the health of any community,” she said. “You need a mix of incomes and housing for there to be a viable economy.”

Gitterman and Fowlkes also recognized the need for affordable housing in Washington. Gitterman said it’s become a popular weekending spot for New Yorkers, which has made the real estate too expensive for people who work in the area.

All of the new houses will have two or three bedrooms and a garage to match the existing single-family homes there.

Normann said they need to work out a timeline for the construction and how many will be built each year. Habitat is finishing up its New Milford projects now.

“We know it will be a multiyear effort for us,” she said.

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Normann said it’s important that there is already an affordable community there so that all of the families can support each other as first-time home buyers. There will also be a playground because it’s expected to attract working families with children.

The donation also includes all of the infrastructure — septic, water lines, conduits and a road.

“That’s a big leg up,” said Todd Dietzman, Habitat’s construction manager. “There’s still a lot of work to be done but a lot is done. It’s a canvas, but it’s framed. It’s ready for paint.”

The infrastructure is expensive to install and by removing that piece, it will allow them to put more into the houses themselves.

“We’re going to be able to help quite a few families in a concentrated area,” Dietzman said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345

Katrina Koerting|Reporter

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