In 1990, housing advocate Andrew Cuomo joined Westchester County Executive Andy O’Rourke and Greenburgh Town Supervisor Tony Veteran to sign the agreement that built the WestHELP housing complex, and gave the town the right to rent the apartments for 30 years after the homeless complex was closed.
Twenty-two years later, Cuomo is New York’s governor, and Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner wants the Cuomo administration to assure the town it would receive $500,000 a year for 20 years, to allow Ferncliff Manor to demolish the apartments and build a residential campus for severely developmentally disabled children.
Democrat Feiner has allied himself with Republican County Executive Rob Astorino to raze the apartments. Astorino’s proposed lease with Ferncliff said the county payment will depend on how much the state will authorize in its reimbursement rate.
“We want to get assurances for the state that they will come through with the $500,000,” Feiner said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I’m trying to get a phone call with the state, so we are just not hearing it from Ferncliff. There still are a number of ifs.”
Feiner’s remarks followed a Town Board meeting Tuesday morning with Ferncliff and several affordable-housing managers and developers, who had responded to Greenburgh’s request for proposals to operate the site. It has remained vacant for a year, since the county turned over the apartments to the town. Feiner has focused since then on tearing down the county’s apartments so Ferncliff could build its campus.
The decision comes as the town of Greenburgh has struggled to meet its allocation of affordable housing under the Westchester Affordable Housing Allocation Plan, enacted by the Housing Opportunity Commission in 2004. It set a goal of 701 units in Greenburgh by 2015. So far the town has created 209 units, which is 492 short of the goal.
Demolishing 108 units of affordable housing would not help to attain that goal. Feiner told me Tuesday his latest plan to expand affordable housing in Greenburgh would start with the demolition of senior housing apartments owned by the Greenburgh Housing Authority on Manhattan Avenue. In its place would rise a building with up to 80 affordable units for seniors, he said.
Current tenants would be temporarily relocated during the construction phase, he said.
“It would be noncontroversial,” Feiner said. “It would be a real win.”
Edgemont civic leader Bob Bernstein said Feiner is the doing the bidding of anti-housing forces in the Mayfair Knollwood neighborhood, who fought Cuomo in 1990, and would like to see the housing torn down.
“This is not about the developmentally disabled,” Bernstein said. ” It’s about getting rid of housing for people they don’t like.”
At the meeting Tuesday, there was a bidding war Tuesday by affordable housing builders to redevelop the WestHELP site.
Harborview Properties of Larchmont wants to create a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with 40 percent for low-income, 40 percent for moderate income and 20 percent for seniors. Its original proposal called for an escalating rent to the town, from $125,000 at the start to $180,000 a year in years 26 to 30.
On Tuesday, Harborview increased its proposed payment to $360,000, which was $10,000 a year more than what had been proposed by Community Housing Innovations. CHI, the White Plains-based nonprofit, would create 108 affordable one-bedroom apartments, with a preference for seniors. It would also make the community center available to local nonprofit groups. CHI will borrow $3 million privately to update the apartments, at a cost of about $30,000 a unit.
“Our proposal is fiscally responsible,” Roberts said. “The need for affordable housing here is great.”
He pointed to a 2009 study by the Reinvestment Fund that found that 25 percent of Westchester renters were “severely cost-burdened,” paying more than 50 percent of household income for rent, based on US Census data.
The most lavish proposal came from Westhab, the premier Westchester affordable housing developer, which wants to create as model sustainable development in response to Superstorm Sandy. Westhab’s plan would cost $21.4 million – about $325,000 per unit. It would create 8 studio and one-bedroom apartments, 37 two-bedroom apartments, and 21 three-bedroom apartments, said Westhab senior development associate Jeff Chu.
The project would include solar panels, geothermal heat, photovoltaic cells, and an urban gardening program.
The larger units, however, would be likely to house families, and children who would attend the Valhalla school district. The complex would pay no property taxes, and make an annual payment of $200,000 to the town.
Board member Francis Sheehan said that would not sit well with the Valhalla district.
“So the town gets the money and the school district gets the children,” Sheehan said.
Westhab expected in would take until 2015 to open the complex. The town would receive $600,000 when the ground lease was signed, and $200,000 a year. Westhab wants the site for 50 years, with lease payments hitting $420,000 by year 50, said Chu.
Marathon Development of Peekskill would invest $4.5 million – about $55,000 a unit – into a housing complex for senior citizens. Marathon would make an upfront payment of $2.2 million to the town. That would represent the present value of paying $200,000 a year over 20 years, discounted at 6 percent interest.
The longer-term leases sought to Westhab and Ferncliff would require a super-majority of the county Board of Legislators – 12 of 17 votes. Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers, has said he wants to stick to the original deal, which would require Greenburgh to rent the housing to low and moderate-income tenants.
Jenkins’ clout with the majority caucus has eroded in recent days by the bipartisan coalition that passed the county budget last week, with Democrats Mike Kaplowitz and Virginia Perez joining the Republicans to support the spending plan
Feiner said Tuesday he had “at least” 15 of 17 votes, including Bill Ryan, D-White Plains, to support Ferncliff, and the demolition of 108 affordable apartments. Feiner says County Legislator Mary Jane Shimsky, D-Greenburgh, is among those who now support Ferncliff. She did not return phone messages.
Ryan told Tax Watch he spoke with Feiner and told the supervisor he had “an open mind” to the Ferncliff plan, which has been promoted by lobbyist Jim Cavanaugh, the former Republican Eastchester town supervisor who works at former state Sen. Nick Spano’s lobbying firm while the senator does prison time for tax evasion.
Ryan, though, said Feiner had not told him about the affordable housing developers vying to redevelop the site for the purpose for which it was built. He wants to review all the proposals before making a decision.
“I need to see the entire picture,” Ryan said. “If there are actual proposals that should be looked at, that’s something else again. I have to see everything that’s in the picture and evaluate it.”