State Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, on Monday pointed to the “responsibilities” the town of Greenburgh and Westchester County have tied to the 1990 agreement for the WestHELP property, which requires the 108 apartments be rented to low- and moderate-income tenants.
Stewart-Cousins, whose district includes the town of Greenburgh, said the agreement signed in 1990 by housing advocate Andrew Cuomo, Westchester County Executive Andrew O’Rourke, and Greenburgh Supervisor Tony Veteran, must not be violated by those who want to tear down the apartment so a Yonkers agency, Ferncliff Manor, can build its residential school on the site.
“The county and town both have responsibilities they must uphold for this piece of property which date back more than two decades,” said Stewart-Cousins spokesman John Tomlin. “It is the Senator’s hope that the town and county are able to come to a mutually beneficial agreement which balances the county’s need for affordable housing with the needs of Ferncliff.”
He said Stewart-Cousins was also looking into the financial deal Ferncliff has sought from the state, if it were to be allowed to demolish the apartments and build a residential school there.
“At Supervisor Feiner’s request, Senator Stewart-Cousins’ office has been looking into the State’s financial commitments with regard to Ferncliff and making sure they are represented accurately to the parties involved,” Tomlin said. .
According to the lease agreement, the town of Greenburgh has control of the apartments until 2031, as long as they rented to low- and moderate-income tenants, preferably seniors or municipal workers. County Executive Rob Astorino, however, told Tax Watch on Friday that the contract never envisioned that the units would be used for permanent housing.
Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner has maintained Greenburgh can use the site for any “public purpose.” Both Feiner and Astorino support demolition.
The lease, however, states unequivocally that Greenburgh has the use of the county-owned apartments for affordable housing.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and Tom Abinanti, D-Mount Pleasant, both support Ferncliff’s demolition plan for the apartments, valued at between $14 million and $20 million.
Abinanti, who served on the Greenburgh Town Council when the deal was forged in 1990, recalled voting in favor of the contract. He said he was focused then on supporting Cuomo’s homeless project and did think much about what the town of Greenburgh would receive in return for hosting the homeless center.
“I didn’t see it being used for affordable housing,” Abinanti told Tax Watch. “I saw it as an opportunity for temporary housing on the site.”
Like Astorino, Abinanti said the 108-unit complex, located on six acres on the entrance road to Westchester Community College, was never intended for permanent housing.
“This was very different from affordable housing,” he said. “It was put out there in isolation, to remove these families from the influences they would get in other places. It was put near the community college so we could train them.”
Abinanti said the needs of the developmentally disabled served by the Yonkers agency should come before the needs for affordable housing by residents in Greenburgh, who happen to live in the district he serves.
“My advocacy is solely for Ferncliff,” he said. “I believe there is a need for Ferncliff in our county.”
Abinanti said Greenburgh has done a good job providing affordable housing for its residents, despite the fact that the town has failed to meet its goal set by the Housing Allocation Plan, ratified by the Westchester Housing Opportunity Commission, which set the policy when Abinanti served as a county legislator. It grew out of a study conducted by housing experts at Rutgers University.
“I’m not accepting that as an allocation for Greenburgh,” he declared. “I’ve never accepted the Rutgers study as accurate.”
As for the promise made to Greenburgh seniors that the complex would provide affordable housing for them through 2031, Abinanti said he couldn’t recall any such promise being made.
“I don’t know about anybody getting promised affordable housing,” he said. “I don’t remember any discussion about setting up affordable housing.”
Note: This post was revised after a spokesman for Stewart-Cousins said the initial headline inaccurately reflected her position.