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Astorino asked to push for more affordable housing

By Mark Lungariello

April 15, 2015.- Members of a fair-housing coalition want the Westchester County executive to step in and convince Harrison to require more affordable housing – even if it means taking the town to court.

County Executive Rob Astorino should intervene as the town considers approving two luxury developments that would build 463 apartments in total, the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition said in a letter to the executive dated April 9.

The letter says Astorino should compel the town to require that at least 10 percent of the apartments are tagged affordable units, meaning they will be rented to households at our below 60 percent of the area median income, or $56,000 for a family of three. Astorino should also see that the town changes its zoning code to encourage further affordable housing developments, the group said.

The county agreed in a 2009 legal settlement to build or obtain 750 units of affordable housing in 31 of its richest and statistically whitest communities, including Harrison. A provision of that settlement requires the county to take means to further housing even if it means pursuing legal action.

Not one unit of affordable housing has been built in Harrison in at least 25 years, but the town and the county brokered a deal last month that reserved as affordable seven of 143 units in an AvalonBay development on a 3.3-acre site that is now a Metropolitan Transportation Authority-owned parking lot.

Continue reading at The Journal News.

Queens Clock Tower, Once the Tallest, Helps a 77-Story Skyscraper Rise Next Door | The New York Times

By Matt A.V. Chaban

March 30, 2015 – The hands have not moved in decades, and the lights behind them went dark a year ago. But the gargoyles still glower atop the Long Island City clock tower, alongside its castellated turret, copper windows and granite shields.

Fourteen stories is nothing in today’s booming neighborhood, but until 1990, the brown-brick structure at 29-27 Queens Plaza North was the tallest building in Queens. Even still, it transfixes residents of this low-slung borough.

“Since I was a boy, I’ve probably passed by that building thousands of times in my life, like so many people in Queens,” said Jimmy Van Bramer, the local city councilman. “It was a landmark from the very beginning.”

It was hard to miss, standing virtually alone at the mouth of the Queensboro Bridge and the bend in the elevated Flushing and Astoria subway lines. Even as it was hemmed in by larger buildings, the clock tower still stood out.

Now it will be truly overshadowed. A 915-foot skyscraper — the city’s tallest outside Manhattan — is about to sprout on its doorstep. Yet the connection is no coincidence: The clock tower is helping make this 77-story glassy giant possible.

The new 930-unit apartment building, designed by SLCE Architects and described as “Manhattan caliber” by its developers, is relying on land and air rights from the clock tower, as well as another, unexpected source: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — this despite the reservations of some of its board members.

Without the deal, the project could only reach 38 stories, shorter than many of the new towers it will now loom over.

When a consortium of developers bought the clock tower and two neighboring plots in November, they hit upon a novel idea to create their Queens colossus. With tight budgets and a mandate to capitalize on its real estate holdings, the transportation authority was happy to oblige.

Last week, the authority’s board approved the transfer of approximately 477,000 square feet of air rights to the developers for just under $56 million. The rights came from an adjacent lot where the agency has dug a hole nearly as deep as the clock tower is tall. Through it runs a tunnel that will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

“The clock tower once marked Queens as a borough on the rise, and with our new project, we want to give the building the prominence it deserves,” the developers, Property Markets Group and the Hakim Organization, said in a statement.

These were indeed the aspirations driving the Bank of Manhattan when it opened the building 88 years ago. With the arrival of the bridge in 1909 and the expansion of the subways across the East River a decade later, the blocks around Queens Plaza became ripe for development.

It became a hub of business, with concrete factories and limestone banks radiating out from the plaza. Most of them are now gone, having been replaced with soaring glass spires.

Local preservationists had worried time was up for the historic building, but the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped in. Last week, the commission began a public review of a proposal to make the clock tower an official landmark, which would protect it from destruction but still allow construction around it. The proposal, which is supported by the developers and Councilman Van Bramer, is likely to be approved.

The developers plan to keep it as an office building for tech firms, and have also promised to pay for a park of up to 1.25 acres on the land controlled by the transportation authority.

Yet some at the authority thought the developers should have been providing public benefits within their new tower: affordable housing.

The developers are in a race to begin construction by summer so they can qualify for tax breaks without having to include affordable housing. If state lawmakers continue the 421a tax-break program beyond June, builders and housing advocates expect projects within high-demand neighborhoods like Long Island City will be exempted unless affordable units are included.

This put the transportation authority board in the unusual position of wrestling with housing policy.

“Myopia is no excuse,” Charles G. Moerdler, a Manhattan lawyer and appointee of the governor to the board, said at a board meeting last week. “Our fiduciary responsibility is to all people of the state, and that includes those who support our governor’s program to provide affordable housing so that New York State remains a state fit for people and fit for living.”

Continue reading in The New York Times.

Should MTA Require Affordable Housing in Land Deals? | The Journal News

March 26, 2015 – White Plains, NY. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will decide on an affordable housing policy within 90 days, after being pressed by a Westchester County fair housing coalition over a planned development in Harrison.

The MTA has gone into the business of signing agreements to sell or turn over authority land to real estate developers, but the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition said as a public benefit corporation the MTA should require as a condition of sale that any development contain 20 percent affordable housing.

Jim Killoran, coalition member and executive director of Habitat for Humanity Westchester, said a lack of affordable housing was the No. 1 issue in the state.

“How can anyone raise a flag on Memorial Day or fourth of July and say you’re an American, then exclude people from living there?” he told the Journal News.

But MTA board member Jonathan Ballan, who was recommended to the seat by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, is among those who believe the authority should not choose housing advocacy over the bottom line.

“We’re a transportation agency, we have a fiduciary duty and responsibility as board members to maximize our revenue and to maximize the return on the sale of our assets,” he said at a board meeting Wednesday.

The MTA board agreed at the meeting to sell for $56 million development rights to a lot in Long Island City where a builder plans to construct about 900 units in a 77-story tower that would be Queens’ tallest. The lack of an affordable housing component was a point of contention in the deal, as it was in Harrison where 143 apartments are planned on a former train station parking lot.

Read More in The Journal News.

Listen to “Affordable Housing Push Takes Express Train to MTA Boardroom” | Broadcast by WNYC.com

Housing advocates: 7 affordable units just won’t cut it | The Journal News

March 13, 2015.- The town may be getting its first new affordable housing units in a quarter-century, but the head of a fair-housing coalition said his group will be pushing for more.

The town announced Thursday that seven units of affordable housing will be included in a 143-unit development planned by AvalonBay Communities on the south side of the town’s Metro-North station. Affordable units represent 5 percent of the total amount, but Alexander Roberts of the Workforce Housing Coalition said his group will be pushing for 10 percent at two other construction proposals in the town, which would include 463 apartments in total.

Roberts noted that a Housing Allocation Plan by a Westchester County housing opportunity commission set a goal for Harrison of 756 affordable housing units by 2015. The seven units were a huge victory and broke up a “logjam” in the town, he said, but more housing is still needed.

“It’s a huge step forward but still a drop in the bucket for the greater goal,” he said.

Verco Properties wants to build 42 luxury apartments with ground-floor retail space at the former Harrison playhouse, which has sat vacant on Halstead Avenue around the corner from the Metro-North station since 2011. Normandy Real Estate Partners is looking to construct 421 apartments at a former office complex on Corporate Park Drive.

Town Supervisor Ron Belmont, reached by phone Friday, said he had no comment on whether the town would negotiate with either developer to include affordable housing in those developments.

Harrison is one of 31 communities in the county named in the 2009 settlement of a federal fair-housing lawsuit, in which Westchester agreed to build or obtain 750 units of affordable housing in communities where black and Hispanic residents made up less than 3 percent and 7 percent, respectively, of the overall population.

Continue reading in The Journal News

A Big Step for Harrison and the MTA

March 13, 2015 -White Plains, NY. Westchester County has announced that it has brokered an agreement with Harrison to include affordable housing in the MTA’s train station development. While calling the five percent set aside inadequate, the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition nevertheless applauded the announcement as a major step forward.

“It breaks a quarter century of resistance to affordable housing in the county’s most resistant town,” according to Alexander Roberts, a member of the Coalition and executive director of Community Housing Innovations.

The coalition includes over a dozen members, including Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, the White Plains/Greenburgh NAACP, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Westchester Hispanic Coalition. Although the number of units is small– seven apartments in a project of 143 luxury units—the Coalition said that it demonstrates that the county can successfully influence even the most intransigent, exclusionary communities to make room for working class families and equal opportunity. A 2009 Consent Decree with HUD requires the county to build 750 units in 31 overwhelmingly white affluent communities and to overcome exclusionary zoning.

Affordability is defined as a two-bedroom apartment renting for about $1,400 per month for a three-person household with income of up to $56,000 per year. This compares with the market rate apartments expected to rent for about $3,500.

The Coalition gave credit to County Executive Robert Astorino and Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett for brokering the deal between the MTA, Harrison and the developer, under which the County will contribute $1 million to subsidize the affordable housing. A little over $100,000 per apartment is less than half of the average taxpayer subsidy for fair and affordable units developed under the Consent Decree. The Coalition pointed out that the lower cost is a result of the cross subsidy contributed by market rate units in mixed income developments.

Now that Westchester County has demonstrated success in the difficult task of modifying an already-negotiated agreement with the MTA and Harrison, the Coalition believes it should have an easier time requiring the town to include at least ten percent affordable housing in two proposed new developments. They are currently going through the local approvals process and contain 463 apartments.

“To do less,” said Jim Killoran of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, “would continue the exodus of business and young people from Westchester County due to lack of workforce housing. We have enough luxury housing in New York. Westchester is the highest taxed county and people of all ages can’t afford to live here. We need to change that now.”

The Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition says that it has heard from an MTA Board member who plans to ask the MTA to change its policy so that all future transit oriented development includes at least 10% to 20% affordable housing. The Coalition has asked for 20% for development on land that is publicly owned.

embers of the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition. (Left to Right) Phillip Leber, regional political director of the Working Families Party, Chuck Pateman, developer, Jim Killoran, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, Nada Khader, executive director of WESPAC, Alexander Roberts, executive director of Community Housing Innovations, Lena Anderson, president of White Plains NAACP, and Dennis Hanratty, executive director of Mt. Vernon United Tenants.

Members of the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition. (Left to Right) Phillip Leber, regional political director of the Working Families Party, Chuck Pateman, developer, Jim Killoran, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, Nada Khader, executive director of WESPAC, Alexander Roberts, executive director of Community Housing Innovations, Lena Anderson, president of White Plains NAACP, and Dennis Hanratty, executive director of Mt. Vernon United Tenants.

Members of the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition

Alexander H. Roberts, Community Housing Innovations, Inc.

James Killoran, Westchester Habitat for Humanity

Lena Anderson, White Plains/Greenburgh NAACP

Graciela Heymann, Westchester Hispanic Coalition

Dennis Hanratty, Mount Vernon United Tenants and Hunger Action Network

David Schwartz, Working Families Party

Veronica Vanterpool, Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Greg Maher, The Leviticus Fund

Nada Khader, WESPAC

Mara Winokur, ULI Westchester/Fairfield

Richard Hyman, Urban Planner

Charles Pateman, Developer

Timothy Lewis, Greenburgh Town Attorney

Andrea Kocsis, Human Development Services of Westchester

Read more regarding this in The Journal News| Harrison MTA housing will have 7 affordable units.

Background

In November, 2014 a coalition of housing and civil rights groups organized by Community Housing Innovations charged that the town of Harrison perpetuates segregation and ignores the need for affordable housing by failing to include any such housing in the first transit oriented development project supported by the MTA in this town. The groups include local chapters of Habitat for Humanity and the New York State NAACP, Mount Vernon United Tenants, the Working Families Party, WESPAC and the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, among others.

In early March, after tough negotiations with Westchester County and the MTA, Harrison agreed to accept seven units (5%)in the 143-unit project.  However, it has so far not accepted any affordable units for 421 additional apartments proposed for the town by other developers.  The Coalition believes a standard of five percent affordable is inadequate for a town two-thirds the size of Manhattan that has done no affordable housing in 25 years. It continues to seek a 10% development set aside in Harrison and other municipalities in Westchester County.

Latest news regarding this issue:

Westchester Sets Affordable Housing Precedent in Harrison Development| Mobilizing the Region

March 13, 2015.- After months of press events and testimony at MTA board hearings calling for the inclusion of affordable housing in a transit-oriented development (TOD) project in Harrison, the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition applauded a cooperative agreement between the MTA, the project developer, the Town of Harrison and Westchester County that provides for 5 percent of the new units to be reserved for affordable housing.

While 5 percent affordable housing is still not on par with the County’s model ordinance and is far less than the 20 percent that the Coalition was seeking, this is a critical step forward for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who successfully moderated an agreement between the MTA and a local municipality, and advocates who have been pushing the cause.

Harrison is a 45-minute ride from Grand Central Terminal and is served by about 100 daily trains, making it an ideal candidate for a high-visibility TOD project. “It’s Happening in Harrison,“ the MTA’s first TOD project, will catalyze downtown revitalization in Harrison by redeveloping 3.28 acres of surface parking adjacent to the town’s Metro-North station with “a series of pedestrian-oriented, four-story buildings lined with retail stores on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors.”

Read more in Mobilizing the Region.

Workforce Housing Coalition asks MTA to Include Affordable Housing

February25, 2015.- The Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition sent a letter this week asking the Board of the MTA to pass a resolution requiring at least 20% affordable housing in all of its transit oriented developments, including its first project in Harrison. The Coalition, consisting of CHI, the White Plains/Greenburgh NAACP, Westchester Habitat for Humanity, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and other organizations, have objected to a preliminary agreement for the MTA to sell 3.28 acres of its land at the Harrison train station to a private developer, with plans to build 143 “luxury high-end” apartments renting for approximately $3,500 per month. The Coalition’s stand has enlisted the support of the federal HUD Monitor appointed to oversee Westchester‘s compliance with a federal consent decree to eliminate discriminatory zoning. County Executive Robert Astorino has also publicly supported including affordable housing in the Harrison development and sponsored a meeting between the MTA and Harrison officials a few weeks ago.

Still, there is no reported movement in Harrison’s refusal to require any affordable housing. See the text of the letter here 2-23-15 Letter to Prendergast

Tax Watch: Nita Lowey silent on fair housing in hometown | The Journal News.

February 2nd, 2015.- In Washington, D.C., Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, has a strong record on housing. She has decried our nation’s affordable housing crisis and worked as ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee to boost federal housing aid. She has shown up in recent years for groundbreaking ceremonies for affordable housing complexes in White Plains and Yonkers.

But Lowey, whose district includes all of Rockland County and part of central and northwestern Westchester County, has been silent regarding affordable housing in Harrison, her hometown.

It’s a federal issue, right in Lowey’s backyard, which has roiled Westchester since the county settled the fair housing lawsuit in 2009. Harrison is among 31 predominantly white communities targeted for 750 affordable housing units that Westchester County needs to have in the pipeline by 2017.

Read full story in The Journal News.

Astorino ducks Harrison affordable housing details |The Journal News.

Jan 16, 2015 .-Federal housing monitor James Johnson on Thursday didn’t get what he asked for from Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino: the location and number of affordable housing units in Harrison that will be among the 606 apartments under review in the town.

Westchester wants to convene one with those involved in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan for 143 apartments at the Harrison train station, which is slated for what Harrison Supervisor Ron Belmont likes to call “luxury housing.”

It’s too early to tell whether Johnson will be assuaged by the plan for a meeting with Belmont, Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti, Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett, and the developer’s attorney, Mark Weingarten.

Continue Reading at The Journal News.

Previous Stories:

Housing monitor cracks down on Harrison plans | The Journal News

Jan 9, 2015 .-Despite the town’s refusal to require any affordable units in three multifamily projects under review, federal housing monitor James Johnson has given Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino until Thursday to identify where those affordable units will be built.

Johnson’s stern letter, sent to Astorino on Wednesday, cited media reports that detailed the plans underway, and Harrison’s lack of interest in including affordable housing. His letter was sent seven weeks after The Journal News’ Tax Watch broke the story.

Johnson is overseeing Westchester’s compliance with a 2009 fair housing settlement, which requires the county to build 750 affordable units in 31 predominantly white communities. Johnson in 2014 found that Harrison was among a handful of communities with the worst record for providing affordable housing.

Read full story at The Journal News

CHI Helps Form Coalition to Promote Equal Opportunity in Suburban Zoning

When the MTA Board agreed in principle to sell land at the Harrison train station to a private developer for 143 “luxury high-end” units in September, CHI responded by bringing together a coalition of housing and civil rights groups, including the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the Greenburgh NAACP, Mount Vernon United Tenants, the Working Families Party, WESPAC and the Westchester Hispanic Coalition.

At its December meeting, the MTA Board heard the Workforce Housing Coalition explain why the MTA’s position that it is up to the town how state-owned land is administered cannot represent a just or even rational policy for three basic reasons.

First, Harrison has been named by a housing monitor under a federal consent decree as one of the worst, most exclusionary towns in Westchester County. It has shirked its responsibility to produce affordable housing for over 20 years. The county’s own housing allocation plan fixed the town’s fair share at 756 affordable units by the end of this year. It has yet to produce one.

Second, the MTA would become complicit with Harrison’s violation of New York State court decisions that require every municipality to provide balanced zoning that does not discriminate. It is no accident that African American households in Harrison, a town that is two-thirds the size of Manhattan, represent just over one percent of the population.

And finally, the MTA cannot allow Harrison to restrict its transit oriented development to luxury housing because it would continue what one developer has called “the hollowing out” of Westchester. Its most productive workers, especially 25-34 year olds, are leaving towns like Harrison in droves because of the lack of affordable housing. Office vacancies continue to climb despite recovering elsewhere.

You can watch Chairman Prendergast’s response by clicking on the following link, (2014 MTA Board Webcasts) and then going to the 12/17/2014 Board Meeting. The response is at 25 minutes and 50 seconds in video.

MTA Leaves Housing Decision to Harrison | Westchester Business Journal

Dec 2nd, 2014.- The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is leaving it up to the town of Harrison to decide if a proposed mixed-use development at the Harrison Metro-North station will include affordable housing units.

The MTA has fielded criticisms from local housing advocates who say 20 percent affordable housing should be a condition in the authority’s plan to sell a 3.3-acre property in Harrison to a developer, which will then build 143 rental units and 27,000 square feet of retail space…

Westchester Coalition Says MTA Program Gives Aid and Comfort to Exclusionary Town| CHI Website

A coalition of housing and civil rights groups, organized by Community Housing Innovations, charged today that the MTA is helping a wealthy town perpetuate segregation and ignore the need for affordable housing by failing to include any such housing in its first transit oriented development project, which will be in Harrison, New York.

The groups include local chapters of Habitat for Humanity and the New York State NAACP, Mount Vernon United Tenants, the Working Families Party, WESPAC and the Westchester Hispanic Coalition…

Harrison housing to test Astorino’s power of persuasion | The Journal News

Nov 29, 2014.- In Harrison, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s low-key approach to developing affordable housing — and complying with the federal fair-housing consent decree — will be put to the test…

Housing Coalition Protests Harrison MTA Project | Westfair Communications

Nov 25, 2014.- A Westchester County housing opportunity commission gave the town of Harrison a goal of building 756 units of affordable housing by 2015 as part of a regional analysis of housing needs. Since the commission filed its countywide Housing Allocation Plan in 1992, and revised it in 2005, Harrison has yet to build one affordable apartment…

MTA: Developer must respect Harrison housing requirements| The Journal News

Nov 24, 2014.- The MTA will have affordable housing as part of its transit-oriented development at the Harrison Metro-North Station — if the town asks for it. MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan issued a statement Monday, six hours after Westchester’s Workforce Housing Coalition standing at Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt entrance demanded the MTA consider the region’s affordable housing crisis…

In Westchester County, Plan for Luxury Units Draws Ire | WFUV

Nov 24, 2014.- Housing advocates spoke out at Grand Central Terminal Monday afternoon in response to plans to use land in the Westchester County town of Harrison to build luxury housing units…

No Affordable Housing in Harrison Apartment Plans| The Journal News

Nov 20, 2014.- All of a sudden, the town of Harrison is red-hot for rental-housing development, with plans for 606 apartments under consideration by town officials. AvalonBay is working with the MTA to build 143 luxury units at the Harrison train station, along with a parking garage and shops. None, however, include affordable housing in a town that hasn’t built a single affordable unit toward the 756 apartments that the Westchester Housing Opportunity Commission recommended be built by 2015…

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