Westchester's Affordable Housing Settlement Takes Center Stage in Forum

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Peter Harckham (left) at the podium moderated the event.
Peter Harckham (left) at the podium moderated the event. Photo Credit: Alex Birsh
The room was packed on Wednesday night, filled with people from all over Westchester County.
The room was packed on Wednesday night, filled with people from all over Westchester County. Photo Credit: Alex Birsh

BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. — The Bedford Hills Town House Justice Court was filled to the brim Wednesday night for the League of Women Voters Affordable Housing community forum, which brought in the likes of county and federal government officials to comment on the future developments of the 2009 housing settlement.

The evening was filled with questions and answers from the audience and panel, the latter of which included two federal representatives – James E. Johnson, federal housing monitor, and Janet Hostetler of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Panel representatives from the local side included Mary Mahon, special assistant to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Norma Drummond, deputy commissioner of Westchester Planning Department, Thomas McGrath, chairperson of the Blue Mountain Housing Development Corporation, and William G. Balter of Wilder Balter Partners Inc. The forum was moderated by the District 2 County Legislator Peter Harckham (D-Katonah). 

The agreement between Westchester and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires 750 units of affordable housing be built in 31 predominately white communities in Westchester by 2016.  Part of the agreement also stated that the county would assist its municipalities with their town or village laws. 

According to Mahon, the county is well on its way to reaching the mark of 750 units, as she reported to the audience the county already has a majority of the units in its sights.

“We have 540 units with financing in place in the ‘pipeline.’  We’re 72 percent toward the 750 obligation,” Mahon said. “They might not all make it, but at this point we wouldn’t be identifying them if they weren’t significantly on the way.” 

A few worries from the crowd came to light, such as if there would be money left to help build units once the 750 mark is reached. But the panel said there would be what’s called a “revolving loan fund” for helping create affordable housing in the county. 

According to Mahon, the county has taken $2.5 million from the $51.6 million supplied by the state to create affordable housing to stay in the revolving fund. In addition, Johnson noted that “the floor is 750, but there is no limit” to the amount of units built.

There is no limit to the amount people can get to know the housing laws, Johnson and company noted, as they said they were pleased with the turnout for the night and urged community members to continue to be curious about the settlement.

“The more we can have dialogues like this and hear from the developers, and talk about the work actually done, and the people moving into the homes, and the opportunities created, the better we can be so we can get things done,” he said.

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At one point the monitor James Johnson told the crowd that his role was "nearly pro bono." Really? He bills $990 per hour and last year billed Westchester County $250,000.

Mr. Harckham said that the County contributes money towards the construction of infrastructure so these type of projects won't cost local taxpayers anything. Really? A nearly 100 unit project planned for North Salem with numerous three-bedroom units was used as an example. Who is paying for the education of hundreds of more children into the school system?

It was hard to get a straight answer. Will the County be forced to sue towns to set aside environmental regulations? Will residents be on public assistance? Will public assistance be counted towards the minimum income requirement of 30% of County median? Who will pay for added expense of 3 bedroom units HUD is now demanding on local schools? Will the fixed costs of providing infrastructure result in larger developments? Will tough DEP watershed regs that severely limit development use up all of the developable land at the expense of workforce affordable and Seniors Housing? Watch this on TV and the Bedford web site. A one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest would have a higher rate of success than the people asking questions at this event.

Sonanddaughters: Right on. I suggest you mobilize and form a citizens action committee to fight this governmental intrusion into our county. Don't you love it when the federal government involves us in their insipid social engineering!