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By Akiko Matsuda, Published by Lohud on May 26, 2017

Arlene Whiteman talks about her new three-bedroom at the Waterwheel Condominium on Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley. Mark Vergari/lohud

Two more workforce units available for sale at the Waterwheel condominium complex in Ardsley.

ARDSLEY, NY – The road to home sweet home was “long and arduous,” but Arlene Whiteman made it: She recently bought a spacious, three-bedroom condominium at an affordable/workforce housing complex in the village.

“I’m going to be very honest. It was very hard to keep waiting,” said Whiteman, recalling the three-year process to finally secure a $350,000 workforce unit at the new Waterwheel development off Saw Mill River Road. “I couldn’t sleep at night when I got it. I lay in bed and was just thinking about it. I still couldn’t believe it.”

The Waterwheel complex offers relatively affordable prices to first-time home buyers, thanks to a combination of government grants and nonprofit initiatives. Whiteman, 49, a single mother and a science teacher at a New York City public high school, is among the first to move in.

As is true for most affordable and workforce housing, buying a unit at Waterwheel required a slew of documents, good luck, and patience. But Whiteman cleared all the hurdles and moved into her new home in April, along with her 23-year-old daughter, Jacquelyn McKenly, and her 19-year-old niece, Naomi Bennett Campbell, who are both college students. Though the process wasn’t easy, Whiteman said, the result – better housing – was well worth the effort.

“Housing is expensive in Westchester. I wasn’t making enough to purchase something,” said Whiteman, who previously lived in a one-bedroom rental apartment in Dobbs Ferry, along with her daughter and niece. “I’m only able to move into this condo because it’s affordable housing.”

The living room and the kitchen area in the new three-bedroom at the home of Arlene Whiteman, at the Waterwheel Condominium on Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley, April 20, 2017. (Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)

Whiteman’s 1,672-square-foot duplex features a spacious living-dining room and an open kitchen with an island and counter stool seating. McKenly and Campbell have separate bedrooms in the main floor, and Whiteman has her own bedroom upstairs.

Long process

The Waterwheel complex was developed by Ardsley Waterwheel Partners, which is a partnership between the nonprofit Community Housing Innovations and Architectura, Inc., a New Jersey-based architecture firm led by Conrad Roncati. The town of Greenburgh, the village of Ardsley and Westchester County also played roles to set aside the 2-acre site for the project.

The complex includes 17 affordable units for families with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income, or $80,240 for a three-person household, as part of the county’s fair- and affordable-housing settlement with the federal government. The project also includes five “workforce housing” units for families with incomes at or below 120 percent of the area median income, or $96,299 for a three-person household. “Affordable” units started at $228,800 and “workforce” units started at $349,900.

The exterior of the Waterwheel Condominium on Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley, April 20, 2017. (Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)

For workforce housing, priority was given to Ardsley volunteer firefighters, ambulance corps members, village employees, village residents and their relatives, as well as seniors. Whiteman said she had a slight advantage because her sister lives in the village.

Whiteman learned of the project in 2014 and put her name in the mailing list with Housing Action Council, a nonprofit that marketed the complex. By the June 2015 deadline, 176 applications had been filed for affordable units, and 10 for workforce units. In the lottery a couple of weeks later, Whiteman drew number five for workforce units, boosting her chances.

But the lottery was only the beginning, Whiteman said. She also had to gather two years’ worth of rent payment records, provide a copy of the deed to her sister’s Ardsley home and prove that her daughter and niece were both full-time students to show that her family was eligible. Whiteman was also required to attend workshops to learn about what it takes to become a homeowner.

Whiteman credited Terry Fleischman, the Housing Action Council home ownership director, with guiding her through the journey.

“The process is long and arduous, but it’s very beneficial for people who can’t afford to get anything if it was not affordable housing,” she said.

One of the bedrooms in the new three-bedroom at the home of Arlene Whiteman, at the Waterwheel Condominium on Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley, April 20, 2017. (Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)

Javier Chavarro, 48, who recently moved into a three-bedroom affordable unit at the Waterwheel, echoed Whiteman’s sentiment.

“Actually, we almost lost hope after two years,” said Chavarro, a classical guitarist who also plays jazz and flamenco, recalling the long waiting period before he finally was able to close on the unit.

Chavarro said he didn’t give up out of necessity: He and his wife, Sonia, were living in a 500-square-foot studio apartment in Ardsley, raising their son, Sebastian, who is now 14 and an honor student at Ardsley High School.

“He is the primary reason why we came to Ardsley,” which is known for excellent public schools, Chavarro said.

Alec Roberts, executive director of Community Housing Innovations, said the Waterwheel complex is now about 80 percent occupied.

“Workforce housing is a terrific asset to any of the communities,” said Roberts, noting that offering more affordable housing opportunities will help Westchester retain young people, who may otherwise have to move out because they can’t afford to live here. “This is a way to attract young people and business to the community.”

New home 

Once the Whiteman family was found eligible for workforce housing, Arlene Whiteman moved on to get approval for her mortgage. The review process by Citibank was rigorous, but she ultimately received approval.

Whiteman said until the last minute, she wasn’t sure if she would get the unit, so she kept her application status pretty much to herself.

“I didn’t tell a lot of people because I was scared if I told them and it didn’t work out, then what do I say to them?” she recalled.

Her daughter, Jacquelyn McKenly, said she and her cousin tried their best to remain calm while waiting.

“Because we knew (Whiteman’s) frustration through the process,” said McKenly, who is studying at Westchester Community College to become a nurse.

Arlene Whiteman and her daughter Jackie Mckenly are pictured in their new three-bedroom at the Waterwheel Condominium on Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley, April 20, 2017. (Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)

Whiteman’s monthly mortgage payment is about $1,500. And while it’s not much more than the rent was for her old apartment, now she can start building equity in her home. If she chooses, she can sell the unit in the future as workforce housing, she said.

“It was very frustrating, but at the end there was a big light at the end of the tunnel, and I was like, wow!” she said of her experience. “It feels so great to come home to this.”

For more information

Two workforce units are still available at the Waterwheel complex for eligible families. Call Housing Action Council at 914-332-4144.

Affordable and workforce housing opportunities are listed in Westchester County’s website,  homes.westchestergov.com/homeownership/homeseeker-opportunities.

Housing Action Council’s website, www.housingactioncouncil.org, also list different opportunities.

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