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Will Westchester Housing Lawsuit Hit Larchmont?

Will a proposed settlement between the federal government and Westchester County over affordable housing impact Larchmont? “I think we have to wait and see exactly how the legislature handles it,” said Larchmont Deputy Mayor Marlene Kolbert. “We know the thrust, but not the practical matters.”

The “thrust” is that Westchester County Executive Andy Spano has agreed to build, within 7 years, 750 new affordable housing units, 630 of which should be in communities with an African-American population of less than 3% and a Hispanic population of less than 7%.

According to data from the 2000 Census, the Village of Larchmont was 94% white; 1% African-American and 4% Hispanic.

The agreement must still be approved by the Westchester County Board of Legislators by September 25, or, according to an August 13 release from that board, it “shall be null and void and all parties would proceed to trial.”

Read the Proposed Agreement

County and Village Committed to Affordable Housing

Mr. Spano asserts that Westchester County has “always been committed to fair and affordable housing,” but he went along with the settlement rather than lose millions in federal funding or pay as much as $50 million to the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, which initiated the law suit. Mr. Spano cited the 1,704 units of affordable housing Westchester helped develop in the last decade.

In Larchmont, specifically, Westchester provided a  $2.55 million “legacy grant” to renovate Flint Park in return for the village pursuing “the development and implementation” of 35 units of “work force housing” by December 31, 2012. (See: Board Approves IMA With Westchester Paving Way for $2.55M Legacy Grant.)

The settlement, as proposed, would have no impact on the legacy grant agreement, according to Donna Greene, spokesperson for Westchester County.

The Larchmont Village Board continues to voice support for affordable housing in Larchmont,  whether or not it is required by Westchester County or the federal government. Nevertheless, Larchmont Village has yet to acquire a single new unit of affordable housing.  And there is no development on the horizon.

So Why No New Affordable Housing?

There was one 54-unit apartment complex with five “work force housing” apartments proposed by Esposito Builders for two lots at 2101 Palmer Avenue and 77 North Avenue.  (See: VOL Planning Board Vote Supports Palmer Apartment Project.) The project survived local opposition and a grueling multi-year permitting process, but “we have been unable to obtain conventional financing,” Richard Esposito told the Gazette this week. Attempts to sell  the property – last listed at $4,335,000 – have been unsuccessful.

“The banks are not lending money,” Mr. Esposito said.

Another possibility previously under discussion by the Larchmont Village Board was allowing construction of apartments – including some affordable units – over Parking Lot #1 at the train station. But interest from developers has dried up in the current economy.

What’s on the Horizon?

Mr. Spano said requiring affordable housing in communities with little or no minority population represents “a historic shift of philosophy.” Rob Astorino, running against Mr. Spano for Westchester County executive, predicts “Big Brother is about to descend on Westchester towns and villages” and that towns and villages “may be forced to build housing wherever the federal government says it should be built.”

But in Mamaroneck Town, Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe and the board were reserving judgment. (See: Westchester County Affordable Housing  Agreement with Anti-Discrimination Center)

Similarly, Ms. Kolbert suggested, “I think we have to wait and see exactly how the [Westchester] legislature handles it.”



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32 comments to Will Westchester Housing Lawsuit Hit Larchmont?

  • I think it’s shameful that Larchmont and the surrounding areas don’t have affordable housing for the people we need most: our teachers, municipal workers, police and firefighters. All the folks who keep this town running. Some teachers drive from Putnam every day.

    Mamaroneck Town wrestled a few units from Forest City but that luxury apartment project never moved forward.

  • rosita fichtel

    Enough with the “guilt” politics! Larchmont does NOT need to feel shame. This community should evaluate the availability of affordable housing, and come up with a short and long term plan. But please…guilt and shame must not be a part of this process!

  • toby

    The figures stated represented the 2000 census. Please note the large influx of Hispanics in the community since that time. There are many more blacks now, too. Wait and see what the 2010 count reveals.

  • From the statistics it is clear that Larchmont has made no effort in supplying affordable housing for low income and middle income families. The responses to the judicial decision is almost laughable. The wait and see attitude will not hold up.
    It would be interesting to see if one of the inside Wall Street boys and girls that live
    in Larchmont have any contact with Avalon Real Estate. Issue tax free bonds to build a 13 story Avalon building with 20% held for low income families , and 20% for middle income families and the problem is solved. Then hold a lottery to see who has access to these apartments. Simple solution for a complex problem.

  • You’re right Rosita. It’s a figure of speech, used too loosely. Shame on me!

    I’m not aware of any long term plan. That’s a good idea. I know there’s an affordable housing committee for the League of Women Voters of Westchester. Does the local League have anyone working on it? Ideally, the housing would be near the town centers, so people could walk more, use the local businesses and keep the village lively.

  • Eleanor

    Actually, I thought we do have “affordable housing” at the Hommocks Apartments, where municipal workers,fire and ambulance volunteers, as well as Section 8 live. We certainly would welcome more. Hey, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner rents his house out because he can’t sell it to the town for affordable housing. Maybe, he can step up and help out! (joking)

  • Great idea Ralph. I happen to have a connection to Avalon. I’ll run it by him.

    And you’re right Eleanor, the Hommocks Apartments are affordable housing, but for the Town of Mamaroneck, not the Village. It won an award for design. We could use some more of those.

    I always thought the train parking lots on Myrtle and Depot way would be great for an elevated structure.

    In fact, a turf field above the Myrtle lot was already proposed. It would alleviate the lack of playing fields with no net loss to the environment, and we’d save money on shoveling the parking lot. If you like this idea, tell the school board.

  • Jim Wall

    The reality is that Larchmont has never taken any initiative to provide affordable housing for lower income individuals. I am sure that the village will comply with the mandate by building units to “provide” for less-fortunate municipal workers. It is the easiest way to “comply” but still ensure undesirables are kept out.

  • 10538er

    Myrtle and Depot are still in the town. Maybe someone can sell a big house in the Manor and split it up into multiple residences, that would illicit some comments.

  • Sushi Says

    To Rosita:
    Re: Enough of Guilt and Shame.

    Sorry but I disagree with you here. There should definitely be guilt and shame for people in this community as well as other affluent areas who do nothing to help the underserved and underpriviliged in today’s economic hardship. We are not put on this planet to be self centered egotists who count their “success” by the amount of gold we have accumulated in life. At the end of the day, it’s not about how much you’ve earned or provided for your family on a monetary level; but it is about what kind of world you leave behind in your legacy. Have you been able to sleep well at night knowing that many others in your surrounding communities and across this nation are worried sick about losing their homes or being able to afford housing in a safe neighborhood? Well, those of us w/ a conscience have been worrying about this – and yes, you can refer to this as guilt or shame – and I would be personally ashamed to travel in social circles where there is little remorse for the serious economic consequences that Wall Street has subjected the middle class and the underpriviliged to by their ongoing moral irresponsiblity and monetary greed. Perhaps feeling guilty or even ashamed is your reaction to this outcry for affordable housing in the area but let’s hope that those feelings transverse to our affluent friends and neighbors. Sometimes it actually takes guilt and shame to motivate people into doing the right thing……in this case, helping those less fortunate than you or others in the region.

  • Diane

    Perhaps this will provide an opportunity for our elementary schools to welcome more hispanic and black children to the classrooms as well.

  • 10538er

    Diane,
    That sounds a little racist to me.There are hispanic and african americans in your children’s class, and their parents pay their bills.

  • DanL

    all these rules can’t apply to small communities. Let’s first merge Larchmont and Mamaroneck and then we will advise.

  • Ron

    Not sure why Larchmont has to provide “affordable” housing. This is not exactly a gated community. There are coops that are affordable to those who cannot afford a single-family house. And if you still cannot afford to live in Larchmont you can find cheaper options in New Rochelle or Mamroneck. Nothing wrong with that.

    Where in the constitution does it require that every American community provide affordable housing?

  • Eleanor

    We keep talking about “affordable housing.” I think we should define what we mean by the term. For one person “affordable” means one thing. For another, it will have a completely different definition.

  • Basically affordable housing is determined by income brackets. So basically low income housing would be approximately supplied for a family of four that is under $ 20,000 to $40,000 while middle income housing may apply for a family of four that is from $ 50,000 to $ 80,000. The idea being that since Larchmont has not made a commitment to either of these income brackets with respect to housing , it is essential to get started. It certainly would not be for that women who lives in Harrison earns $ 300,000 and claims financial hardship as printed in the Sound Shore express n page 9 of the September 10th edition. Eleanor lift up your heart and try to explain to all of us what are you confused about with regard to low income and middle income. Ron should review the need to get federal funding for Westchester County for numerous projects. If the County does not meet federal requirements with respect to housing then the county will risk its ability to get federal funding. We should be proud that we live in the Northeast and easily have the ability to meet this requirement and move forward in a progressive manner.

  • Eleanor

    Hi Ralph,

    If you read my previous comments, I think our obligations should be met 100% percent.

    As far as your comment to me “Eleanor lift up your heart and try to explain to all of us what are you confused about with regard to low income and middle income”

    I don’t believe the regulations are requiring us to offer low income housing…just “affordable housing.” That was where my confusion was. It also appears to be that the law is requiring us to “advertise and market” to a particular group. That leaves a big loophole.

    Ralph, the Town of Larchmont does have “affordable housing” which are the Hommocks Apartments on Boston Post Road for middle and low income people. That was why I wanted to know what is “affordable housing” and why aren’t we in compliance? I would love to see more of those homes built in our community.

  • Eleanor, those Hommocks Townhouses are in the Town of Mam’k. We would do well to have another lovely design like that. I think we should buy that dumb Duane Reade property. Just please, not another bank there.

  • J.DeLeseppes

    It is the established governmental structure that is gives it the designation of being a “village” (and the many perceived qualities & attributes that are often associated … ie: small, attractive, quiet, safer desirable). Likewise, it is the established governmental structure of a municipality that gives it the designation of being a “city” (and not the many perceived qualities & attributes that are often associated . . . ie. densely populated, urban, high-crime, predominance of minorities, loud, lower quality of life).

    Many people seem to believe that the homogeneity present within Westchester’s villages is expected, acceptable and perfectly legitimate. In other words, it is acceptable for community resources to be mis-appropriated to favor one group over another? To grant a preferred group the right to live in a certain area/place and exclude those ‘less-desirables’? I’m pretty sure exclusionary practices which occur in connection with elected officials, local/national government, or the allocation of public resources/tax-dollars = unconstitutional, illegal and punishable in a court of law. To exclude religious, economic, racial or ethnic groups the fundamental American principles of equality and freedom.

    Larchmont could easily provide affordable housing within its borders. It is disturbing that there exists such strong negative and “concerned” reactions to this progressive, landmark legislation. . . primarily connected to affordable housing and “concern” over African-Americans, Hispanics and other minority recipients. Why? There is nothing undesirable of racial diversity in our communities…. unless you are a racist of course. Besides, affordable housing can benefit SO MANY more groups including the elderly, students, artists, single parent households, individuals with physical or mental disabilities etc. Westchester County is so costly that middle class individuals, couples and families could also fall under potential recipients of housing assistance.

  • Eleanor

    In the 1960′s, a realtor knocked on my mother’s door telling us that “negro’s were moving in a block away, and did she want to sell her house.” I was 9 years old. My mother chased the man down the steps screaming at him “never to ring her bell again. She told him that if they could afford to move in, they would be welcomed.” We were Jewish. When we moved in the Irish moved out, because the Jews were moving in. We became a middle class integrated cohesive community, that worked to keep it a diversified neighborhood. We all had the same family values and crime was not an issue.

    I think The Hommocks Apartments is an example of how this kind of housing can be achieved successfully. However, I appears to have a loophole in how the law is written. It only requires that “we advertise to minorities.” It doesn’t mean that “we allow them in”
    I do believe that the vast majority of people would welcome this kind of housing.

  • doris erdman

    As former resident of Westchester County (Both Town and Village of Mamaroneck), an architect, person who chaired the village planning board for two terms and served on many other land use related committees locally and countywise, I would like to make a few comments on this lawsuit. Short memories– Andy O’Roarke instituted a plan for affordable housing and gave a quota to each municipality. I believe the village of Mamaroneck actually exceeded their quota– many other communities did not. It was about affordable housing not peferrential treatment or discrimination. This lawsuit is about both–with the implication or assumption that the two minorities mentioned are the only ones who either need or deserve economic assistance. What about Asians, Indians and so on, or are they now considered white.
    Zoning laws and density will have to be uprooted or ignored to put this in place. Urban planning forgotten in a built-up area.Part of the reason that O”Roarke’s plans weren’t executed lies in those problems which have only become worse over time. The county offered all or at least many of the sites they owned and most were unbuildable. A reasonable organization that either knows all of this and more– or should have—and really wanted to achieve just more affordable housing would not be attempting to do it via blackmail.

  • Doris , where are you living now, and have you ever felt it was fair to build affordable housing in Larchmont for low income and middle income households? For would love to see any article you wrote about this topic in the last twenty years. The minorities mentioned are not the only groups that will benefit. Like any decision there will be fair and equitable treatment. From the tone of your letter, are you suggesting that since there are so many minorities that no attempt should be made to build affordable housing? It seems quite the opposite should be accomplished. Maybe a breakdown of the number of minority groups with incomes in a certain range can be handed in to apply for these affordable housing units. The issue is still that these units still need to be built. Please forward us the number of American Indians living in Larchmont. Asians would be able to apply for they are considered a minority group by the federal government, however it would be necessary for any and all to be in certain income requirements. So the real issue is still the same. The need and responsibility to build affordable housing.

  • Hi Doris! Thanks for the historical perspective. Are you comparing this federal gov’t lawsuit to blackmail? Or am I missing something?

    The best way now is to require new apt. housing to have a percentage of affordable housing. I believe there is a % number in place but not sure. Usually % is negotiated with the builders in exchange for something else. At least that’s how the Town handled it in the past. Not sure about Larchmont Village.

  • Redacted

    If everyone is so concerned about affordable housing, how about lowering property taxes? Property and school taxes only go one way around here–UP!

  • Sushi Says

    Eleanor – that’s a horrible experience you witnessed by a realtor none the less.. Did you grow up in Larchmont? I did in the 60′s and we had a multicultural neighborhood – and it was completely normal for us. As kids we never discriminated against anyone nor would it be tolerated if we had. I found the Larch/Mam’k area to be extremely progressive and non tolerant for any type of racism – or cultural differences – rather they were embraced. Everyone integrated very well. Except for the summertime when the Beach Clubs bred exclusivity and few were interdenominational – I believe only Orienta Beach Club was as a matter of fact.

    My husband is African American (I am not)and I consider myself lucky to have such a great partner in life. I also cherish the fact that I was raised in Larchmont/Mam’k because I have experienced discrimination in recent years because of my interracial marriage – and it truly breaks my heart to think that this is what so many people have been subjected to their entire lives. I simply do not understand it and I never will be able to. I thank my parents for raising me in such an accepting environment – I hope Larch/Mam’k never changes those core endemic values.

  • Eleanor

    Hi Sushi,

    No, I grew up in the city. I think that people’s stereotypes get broken down when we actually live amongst each other, and realize that we all want the best for our children.

  • John

    Ralph and Sushi. A little less moral outrage directed at your neighbors, please. Residents pay some of the highest taxes in the county and are active in giving time and money to all sorts of charities . To imply that opposition to this ruling is rooted in racism and greed is cheap class politics.
    Instead of trying to build in the most expensive place, why not focus County resources on a few places (and public transport) so that a real difference can be made. A few costly dwellings in Larchmont (not exactly a job center or a cheap place to shop) will not do much for social engineering (way over-rated pass-time) but will suck resources away from the really disgraceful living conditions nearby. Of course that requires looking at reality as opposed to using a bandaid and patting ourselves on the back for being “diverse”. You want to make a difference? Declare a County war on the slum conditions in Mt Vernon.

    • Ralph Petrillo

      A band aid for some is housing for others! John try to not to go around the issue. Larchmont has not built any affordable housing in its history. Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and Mamaroneck have. Taxes are high in Mamaroneck and affordable housing has been built. Sometimes recognition of a need for change is attacked. Is there ever a time that you feel or have felt that Larchmont would be able to be part of an effort to build affordable housing for low income and middle income families or is that you just want low income and middle income housing built in Mount Vernon so that low income and middle income families are not given an opportunity to live in Larchmont?

  • Anon E Mous

    Just suppose,
    1. The Village of Larchmont allowed construction above its train station parking lot(s).
    2. The Town of Mamaroneck allowed construction above its train station parking lot(s).
    3. The Town of Mamaroneck were to ‘re-work’ its agreement — with the developer of the Washington Sq./Madison Ave. area — again.

    Let’s just suppose for the moment.

    Let’s also agree that this is very far from the ideal ‘development’ time. But could we briefly suspend belief of what can’t be done and think about what we might be able to do if only we knew how.

    Could we have, for example, near the ‘Larchmont’ train station, some combination of -
    1. Attractive market rate housing;
    2. Affordable housing for the workforce of our communities–there is value in having those who work for our communities live in them;
    3. More socioeconomic diversity–which could be a learning experience for many;
    4. A mini-transit-center including local community transit–maybe Metro-North could help as it is testing trains to the NJ football stadium from the Larchmont station;
    5. More room for parking by ‘multi-level-decking’ rather than a single layer over so much land;
    6. Less need for parking;
    7. Improved traffic flow around the train station;
    8. Better walking and biking with improved pedestrian safety around the train station and our communities, and perhaps a healthier community;
    9. An improved carbon footprint, and perhaps a healthier community;
    10. Maybe a ‘center’ involving a school, library, government services, etc., etc., etc.;
    11. Savings on some renovation expenses for existing buildings whose land could be re-allocated;
    12. More room for sports fields and public open recreation spaces; some to be gained from other re-used spaces.
    13. A much more attractive ‘Gateway’ to the Village of Larchmont and the Town of Mamaroneck.

    Okay, consider it a dream if you will, but perhaps at least consider it. And if you have other ideas, think about them, submit them here, and hopefully many of us will think about them too.

    A mind is a terrible thing to waste. An opportunity is a terrible thing to waste. OPEN THE BOX, THINK BIG AND THINK HOW WE CAN!

  • This is a letter from the LWV of Westchester to the County Board, regarding this issue. They make some good points.

    Dear Mr. Ryan and Honorable Members of the Board of Legislators:

    For many years, the League of Women Voters® at all levels – National, State and County – has recognized the need for affordable housing and supported its creation. Based on this support, the League of Women Voters® of Westchester has monitored and observed all relevant housing entities, including the County’s Housing Opportunity Commission, various committees of the County Board of Legislators, and local housing development proposals.

    In doing so, we have come to commend the County’s energetic efforts for affordable housing across the spectrum and throughout the County. This includes workforce housing for the teachers, firefighters, police, municipal workers and others on whose presence every community depends.

    Since the 2007 filing of the lawsuit against the County by the New York City-based Anti-Discrimination Center, the League of Women Voters® of Westchester also has monitored all public discussion about it and, more recently, about the proposed Housing Settlement Agreement negotiated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and issued on August 10, 2009.

    Having done so, we note that in past years, communities throughout Westchester have benefited from funds from federal Community Development Block Grants for projects ranging from open space preservation to senior centers and housing. Without approval of this Agreement, all similar future projects could be in jeopardy.

    With this background, the League has reviewed the Housing Settlement Agreement and requests clarification of certain issues.

    Paragraph 5 of the Agreement limits the County’s financial exposure from 2009 through 2014. The Agreement, however, fails to address or limit the County’s financial exposure after the year 2014. The number of affordable housing units may not be reduced except as set forth in paragraph 15(a)(vi) which allows for a reduction in the case where “further extension of the time frames will not be sufficient to permit the possible satisfaction of the County’s obligations.” It can be expected that over time and with sufficient funding the units can be built. The League requests that future funding be determined so that the County may accommodate such funding without an increase in taxes or debt over a prudent amount. The League requests that the County request a side letter to the Agreement to clarify the financial requirements for the duration of this Agreement.

    The League has been a long-time supporter of the Fair Housing Act and rejects any discrimination in housing on the basis of race or other protected classes as set forth in that legislation. Absent any demonstrated discrimination, the League encourages the County to request that the units contemplated under this agreement be offered to all classes in the appropriate income groups. Affordable housing in Westchester County is in such short supply that all income-eligible County residents should be able to benefit from a unique opportunity to live in these affordable housing units.

    Finally, in observing the governmental process, the League notes that this Agreement, which affects municipalities throughout the entire county, has been negotiated without any input from the County Board of Legislators, even though legislative approval of the Agreement is legally required. During the preparation of the Agreement’s upcoming implementation plan, the League urges greater collaboration between the Executive and Legislative branches to achieve a result that reflects the same open, deliberative process in which the legislators have been engaged in recent weeks.

    The Executive Committee of the League of Women Voters® of Westchester County supports the Housing Settlement Agreement with the above reservations and looks forward to continuing to work with the County to successfully implement this accord.

    Sincerely,

    Mary Beth Gose Karen Schatzel
    President Director and Chair, Housing Committee

    cc: Members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators

    Westchester County Executive
    The Honorable Andrew J. Spano