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 Community Housing Innovations, Lena Anderson, president of White Plains NAACP, and Dennis Hanratty, executive director of Mt. Vernon United Tenants.
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.
At its September Board meeting, the MTA announced an agreement in principle to sell 3.28 acres of public land south of the Harrison Train Station to a private developer of luxury housing, AvalonBay Communities. The plan, agreed to by the town of Harrison, is to build a transit-oriented development of 143 apartments. The briefing materials provided to MTA board members made no provision for the town or the developer to build any affordable housing. It did, however, provide for AvalonBay to construct a parking garage with 475 spaces to be owned by Metro North.
“The MTA,” said the group, “places parking lots over people when it ignores the need for housing equity in our communities, which includes affordable workforce housing.”
Harrison has defied all efforts to produce affordable housing for over 20 years. The Westchester County Housing Allocation Plan, which assigned housing goals to each municipality in 1992 and 2005, gave Harrison a goal of 756 units by 2015 because of its millions of square feet of office parks. Of the 756 units, Harrison has yet to produce even one apartment under the plan.
The town, with an African-American population of only 1.1% when excluding those in group quarters, has also refused to cooperate with efforts to develop affordable apartments under a 2009 federal consent decree between HUD and Westchester County. The market rate housing proposed for the MTA site, with monthly rents of about $3,500 for a two-bedroom apartment, is out of the reach of most working families. The town, which is two-thirds the size of Manhattan, has produced an average of only 17 new apartments per year, despite huge developer interest. It is only 45 minutes to Grand Central on the Metro North line.
The standard of affordability in Westchester County is an apartment affordable to a family of four with income up to $62,000 per year. The median home price in Harrison is $850,000. “The MTA has called the Harrison transit oriented development a model for the region,” said Alexander Roberts, executive director of Community Housing Innovations. “Far from a model,” he said, “it excludes regular working families who can’t afford $3,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.”
The coalition has called on the MTA to require that at least 20 percent of any transit-oriented development include affordable units. In Westchester, an affordable rent for a two-bedroom apartment is up to $1,440 per month, including utilities. “The irony is that AvalonBay has long experience developing mixed income housing in Westchester,” said Graciela Heymann of the Westchester County Hispanic Coalition. “That it wasn’t asked to do so represents an inexcusable failure on the part of the MTA, Westchester County, and Harrison to respect and respond to the need for affordable housing and the need to undo decades of residential segregation.”
James Killoran, Westchester director of Habitat for Humanity said, “The importance of affordable housing in any project in Westchester is paramount to the economic success of the county. Without it, Westchester and New York will continue to see an exodus of its residents and businesses.”
Lena Anderson of the NAACP of White Plains and Greenburgh said, “This is a matter of equal opportunity. The state should not be aligning itself with policies that continue economic and racial segregation.”
Recently, a demographic study by Community Housing Innovations found that many of Westchester’s exclusive communities have lost a large percentage of their 25-34 year olds. Harrison lost 20% of this cohort since the 2000 census, and 34% from the census tract that includes the train station.
In addition to asking the MTA to change its transit oriented development policy to include a 20% affordable component, the coalition called on Harrison to adopt the federal consent decree’s model zoning ordinance, requiring that at least ten percent of new developments include affordable housing. The groups also called on the town to make sufficient changes in zoning to enable the construction of the Housing Allocation Plan goal of 756 affordable units. Harrison has recently announced proposals for an additional 463 units from other luxury housing developers.