Article from the Daily Republic
Focusing on families, Fairfield--Neighborhood rejuvenation, not profits, drives homebuilder By Ian Thompson
FAIRFIELD — A sense of pride.
For homebuilder Steve Hanley, he looks at the affordable houses he’s built around town and feels pride in contributing to the city where he grew up. For the people who make these houses their homes, living in a nice home they can afford translates to pride in themselves and their neighborhoods. It’s a combination Hanley likes.
“I found it extremely rewarding work,” Hanley said his involvement with three of Fairfield’s most recent affordable housing projects. “It feels great to be able to give something back.”
He is now in the middle of building a five-home affordable housing project called Cornerstone at Tabor. One of the houses is already occupied and three others soon will be. Hanley worked for contractors while he was a student and joined the construction business full time after he graduated from Fairfield High School. He started his own company in 1978 and has been building smaller, more affordable homes on small lot he buys since 1980.
“I like building smaller houses for working-class people,” Hanley said. “That has been my niche. I like being involved in every house.” Hanley’s involvement with affordable housing had its genesis with longtime resident and former Fairfield city councilman Gary Walker, who had known Hanley “on and off’ while both grew up in Fairfield. Six years ago, Walker approached Hanley, “who talked to me about this old drug house and how it could be replaced by three houses,” Hanley said. The badly aging house - “a dumpy place on a large lot” - had become a haven for drug dealers and the neighbors, including Walker, were fighting to get it cleaned up, Walker said. “If we left this house there, the same people would just move back in,” he added.
Walker got together with Fairfield Planning and Development Director Sean Quinn to buy the property, knock down the old house and build something new in its place that would be a place for homeowners and not renters. “Gary had the foresight for this idea to replace renter with homeowners,” Hanley said of the project that became Cottage Place. “I was convinced we could turn downtown into a village of homeowners instead of a village of renters,” Walker said.
Hanley bid for and got the contract to replace the old house with three new homes. First-time home buyers quickly purchased all three. The Cottage Place project was followed by the Craftsman Duets on Broadway, a house on Michigan Street and now the five houses that comprise the Cornerstone at Tabor project. "Without their involvement, this would not exist,” Hanley said of Fairfield’s affordable housing efforts.
Two of the two-story Cornerstone houses will go to low-income families while three will be sold to moderate-income families. Hanley has had to compete with other bidding developers for each project. And once he got one the bids, “you had to make them work; you had to sink or swim on your own.” “There is not a lot of money in it, so your motivation has to be something other than money,” Walker said of his friend. “This is the town we grew up in. What better way than to be active in the community than in the field you are good at.”
These houses keep Hanley’s crews working between other projects “and he truly thinks it’s a good thing to do for Fairfield where we were both raised,” Walker said. “Everything Steve and I have ever done is with a handshake,” Walker added. “He has a great character in business and in his personal life.”
Hanley definitely plans to stay in the affordable housing market because of what it means to his town.
The new homes not only make a lasting impression on the first-time home buyers, but on their children “who can now walk around their neighborhood with a sense of pride,” Hanley said.