They provide a drop-dead date that can end seemingly intractable discussions, and allow governments to move forward to serve the public interest.
Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner issued one on Thursday. He told County Executive Rob Astorino he had until Oct. 1 to craft a lease agreement would allow the town to tear down 108 units of affordable housing owned by the county at its former WESTHELP complex in Greenburgh, adjacent to Westchester Community College campus.
For the past year, Feiner has kept the units vacant while it wooed Ferncliff Manor, a for-profit agency for the severely developmentally disabled, to relocate its campus to the six-acre site.
If Astorino fails to come up with a lease, Feiner said he’d proceed with a request-for-proposals to agencies that would rent out the apartments to low-and moderate income residents.
“We can’t wait indefinitely for the county to act,” said Feiner. “The county closed the WESTHELP facility last September. If there is no official proposal made by Oct. 1, we will proceed with plans to turn the property into affordable housing.”
Westchester County, which has been in talks with Greenburgh for the past six months, has been working on a proposed lease for the past few months. Ferncliff wants a 50-year lease. Greenburgh only has control of the apartments for 19 years, as part of its agreement with the county to allow construction of the complex for homeless families in the early 1990s.
“We are continuing to work with the town to see if it’s feasible, and we will do our due diligence,” said county spokeswoman Donna Greene.
But the county won’t move quicker to meet Feiner’s deadline.
“It will take whatever amount of time it takes,” Greene said.
The problem for Feiner – and Astorino – is the fact that Westchester County is under federal court order to build affordable housing here, and tearing down 108 units may not sit well with US District Judge Denise Cote. The court ruling orders Westchester to build 750 units in predominantly white communities, of which Greenburgh is not one. But it also calls on the county to undertake countywide efforts to promote affordable housing, so it seems risky to allow 108 units it owns to be razed.
The county Board of Legislators, which would have to approve any change in the lease, for many months has appeared unwilling to allow the apartments’ demolition.
Edgemont civic leader Bob Bernstein says Feiner’s attempts to woo Ferncliff have effectively deprived the town of rent from the apartments for a year. He has long urged the town to find a management firm to rent the efficiency apartments, which would bring the town revenue.
They’ve been vacant for a year, and even if they move forward on Oct. 1, it would be several more months before they were occupied.
“Paul is a day late and a dollar short,” says Bernstein. “He should have done this months ago. He has known for several months that the Democrats on the county board were never going to support Ferncliff. He has let the apartments sit there vacant for a year. That’s reckless and irresponsible.”
But Feiner insists he’s only trying to maximize town revenue, which could be worth the wait.
“The town would generate probably hundreds of thousands of dollars more in revenue each year from this use than from competing options (low-income housing),” Feiner wrote in a press alert. “The extra dollars we generate from Ferncliff would help us keep taxes down.”