On Wednesday May 1st, the Bedford Town Hall held a public meeting to discuss the issue of Affordable Housing. Piggybacking off the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act, a 2009 settlement with county made $51 Million available for the development of 750 affordable housing units in Westchester. To date, 302 units have been developed or have obtained the necessary permits.
A number of players, including Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy of Somers, Supervisor Warren Lucas of North Salem and Tom McGrath of the Blue Mountain Housing Development Corporation, proceeded to detail the progress made across the county in their individual constituencies. Ofcourse, the baseline stipulates that housing cannot be denied based on race, religion, etc, but is limited based on occupant income. Renters cannot exceed 63% the adjusted medium income of the county, while home buyers must stay under 80%.
Currently, though, landlords may turn down applicants whose major source of income is government assisted. But the county is seeking to overturn that through The Source of Income Legislation Bill.
Either way, the obvious concerns affordable housing carries was evident but only among a small minority of the packed house on Bedford Road. One member of the public likened the presentation to a whitewash that failed to mention quota requirements such as welfare recipients and section 8 qualifiers.
Tom McGrath of Blue Mountain addressed that to the point. “There are no quotas,” he stated succinctly.
What does amount to a quota of sorts is the manner in which people become aware of available properties. Developers must market the property in New York City, Westchester and the surrounding counties of Putnam, Rockland, Fairfield and Dutchess. The application in hand, said McGrath, "then there's a lottery."
That mattered little to another Bedford resident who also did not identify himself. "You have to aspire to live here as I did growing up poor in Queens," he said in seeing no reason to make special consideration to afford those without the means or drive to get here.
Bruce Yablon of Blue Mountain Housing thus took it upon himself to read between the lines. "I don't mind having people living here who don't look like myself," he said, "and affordable housing is not made up of crack dealers, welfare recipients, but firefighters, teachers and administrative assistants."
At thesame time, affordable housing agreements do not amount to a free pass. "If people are not paying their bills or not in good standing in the community, there are procedures in place to remove them," said Yablon
But if the concern remains that the hardened people of New York City and their lackadasial street corner lifestyle will descend in droves, the logistics and applications don't really support it. "People in New York and lower Westchester don't really want to come this far," said Judy Stern of Blue Mountain. "The affordable housing pool mostly comes from people around here."
And that makes sense not just in terms of our economic quality of life, according to Adam Oaks of the Lewisboro Fire Department. "Young firefighters, EMT workers and other volunteers of essential services go to college, and then cannot afford to live here," said Oaks.
The resulting delays in life saving services are already being seen and the towns are beginning to hire people to do jobs that were always done on a volunteer basis.
But without a preferential point system for those essential members of the community and others that work here, it seems that the notion doesn't quite add up. Andrea Klausner of the Westchester Residential Opportunities acknowledged that to a degree but sees the bigger picture. "The 750 units really is the tip of the iceberg and the idea is to open the doors so Westchester can be affordable to those who cannot remain and more who like to come here," said Klausner.
The experience of pastor Dr. Paul Briggs of the Antioch Church in Bedford Hills echoed that sentiment. "I have so many former members who worked for companies like Pfizer and IBM and can no longer afford to live here when they retire," he said. "That's what it's done to just my congregation."
Extropolating that across Westchester is something none of us can afford.