BEDFORD, N.Y. – More than 100 Westchester County residents packed Bedford Town Court House Wednesday night, as town supervisors, housing agencies and land use law experts weighed in on Westchester County’s affordable housing situation.
In the public forum dubbed “ Furthering Fair & Affordable Housing ,” Blue Mountain Housing Development Corp’s Tom McGrath and Land Use Law Center’s Tiffany Zezula led a discussion to go over the county’s progress so far, with slide shows on the 107 units already in use throughout Cortlandt Manor, Rye and Pelham.
North Salem Supervisor Warren Lucas and Somers Town Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy explained the situations in their municipalities before the public got a chance to weigh in.
North Castle Town Supervisor Howard Arden, New Castle Town Supervisor Susan Carpenter and Bedford Town Supervisor Lee Roberts were also in attendance.
As most Westchester County residents know by now, the county was issued a state-mandated affordable housing settlement under which a total of 750 units of affordable housing in 31 communities that have been identified as “majority white” by 2016 . With over 300 units already occupied, developed or adopted by the beginning of 2013, the county is right on track.
However, the question at hand isn’t so much about the 750 units—those will be built and are well on there way to being built.
The real question seems to be “How much affordable does Westchester County need and how much can it support?” According to multiple studies and the recently founded organization “Homes for Westchester,” the answer—and goal—is 10,000 units.
“There was a study done years ago that showed Westchester County has a need for 10,000 affordable housing units over a ten-year period,” said Housing Action Council Executive Director Rose Noonan
“That has gotten lost because of the 750 number. Yes, the county needs 750 units—but there’s also a need for so much more throughout Westchester County, not just the 31 selected municipalities,” she added.
While Zezula attempted to lead a public questioning period to focus on “How can we further affordable housing in Westchester County?” the questions asked were more of the for-or-against variety.
One resident who chose not to give their name suggested, “It sounds like the county is going out of its way to bring people to live here who can’t afford to live here. That's not the way it works. If Harvard starting letting students with C's into their school, it wouldn't be a very good school.”
Deputy Director of Westchester Residential Opportunities Andrea Kalusner said that is the type of logic that must be dissolved if the county is going to add more affordable housing.
“We need to dispel the myths of the people who are buying affordable housing,” she said. “This is not a black-white issue.”
Local resident and Blue Mountain Housing Corp volunteer Julie Stern agreed.
“Who wants to live here? The people that already live here,” she said. “A big part of affordable housing is making it more affordable for the people already living here, so they can keep living here.”