Empty office building at 103 Corporate Drive in Harrison

BY ALEXANDER ROBERTS

There was a time when Westchester County used to compare itself to Travis County, Texas, which includes the city of Austin. In 2000, Travis County had a population of 812,000, compared with 923,000 in Westchester. Today, Travis County is booming, with a population of 1.12 million, while Westchester has lagged, with 969,000.

But if you want to quantify how poorly Westchester has performed economically, you may look at IRS data showing the net aggregate adjusted gross income from migration. This is the aggregate adjusted gross income of in-migrants minus the aggregate adjusted gross income of out-migrants. In-migrants are those who filed tax returns in different counties, states or abroad in the previous year but filed locally in the current year; out-migrants filed taxes locally in the previous year but filed in different counties, states or abroad for the current year. The results are sobering.

In Texas, during the six years from 2006 through 2011, Travis County gained $2.1 billion, while Westchester lost $536 million. That’s over half a billion dollars in resources no longer available to stimulate the economy and share Westchester’s tax burden.

And one of the reasons why the money and business are leaving is a lack of workforce housing.

If you compare the percentage of homes affordable to a household at 80 percent of the area median income in Austin ($60,300 for a family of four) to the same 80 percent of area median income in Westchester ($83,000 for a family of four), you find that 27 percent of the homes on the market in Austin are affordable while only 10 percent are affordable in Westchester (and you can imagine that they tend to be in the poorest school districts). The story for rental housing isn’t much better. For households at 80 percent of the area median income, 46 percent of the rental apartments are affordable in Austin, compared with only 22 percent in Westchester. This data is from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey.

As Nela Richardson, chief economist for the real estate brokerage Redfin, said on CNN, “Texas and other heartland states have two advantages that translate into affordable housing: plenty of cheap land around cities and easy regulations that enable developers to build quickly.”

Don’t be fooled by all of the recent hype about recovery in the housing market; the county just finished its fourth year in a row of negative net office space absorption with 21 percent vacancy. Westchester remains deeply unattractive to business because of its uncompetitive housing market.

Published in Westchester County Business Journal | Westfair Online.