Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, has called on Westchester County and New York state to respect the agreement struck on WestHELP in 1990, which states that the 108 affordable apartments would be rented to low- and moderate- income tenants through 2031.
Galef made her comments Sunday afternoon at the swearing in of US Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, at the Mahopac Public Library. Three state agencies are currently reviewing plans submitted by Ferncliff Manor in Yonkers to tear down the apartments so it can build a residential school for the developmentally disabled.
“We need affordable housing in Westchester, and we have it at WestHELP,” Galef said. “It’s so hard to get affordable housing built here.”
She wants officials to stand by the promises they made to the town of Greenburgh – and Westchester county taxpayers – in 1990.
“The deal was for housing, and we need to use it for housing,” Galef said. “The location is excellent.”
Two of the state agencies report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who built the housing in 1990 through Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged (HELP), the nonprofit organization he founded in 1986. Cuomo struck the 40-year agreement with Westchester County and the town of Greenburgh to transform the apartments into permanent housing for low- and moderate income tenants after the homeless complex was no longer needed for transitional housing.
Experts have valued the taxpayer-owned asset at $20 million. Westchester’s latest affordable housing project – the 120-unit complex at the site of School 6 in Yonkers – will cost $58 million, or $479,000 per apartment.
Galef recalled the intense public debate from 1988 to 1990, which featured several public forums in one of Westchester’s legendary housing battles that involved race and class. Galef recalled receiving Sunday afternoon phone calls from Cuomo during the heat of the controversy, as Cuomo cajoled her to help round up the votes so his homeless complex could get built.
To get the votes, Cuomo forged an agreement to use the complex for the homeless for just 10 years, with the remaining 30 years dedicated to permanent housing for low- and moderate-income tenants. The complex sits on six acres, at the Knollwood Gate at Westchester Community College. The homeless center won a second decade of operation in 2001, but was closed in September, 2011. Greenburgh has let the apartments remain vacant since then, and has invested no town funds to maintain the complex while it has had control there for 16 months.
Galef is Westchester’s only state legislator to call for the state and county to back the deal she approved while serving on the Westchester County Board of Legislators in 1990. One of her Democratic colleagues on the county legislature, Paul Feiner, urged her in 1990 to approve the deal, arguing that the town of Greenburgh would use the apartments to rent to low- and moderate-income tenants, preferably seniors or municipal workers.
Twenty-three years later, Feiner serves as Greenburgh town supervisor, and he is leading the campaign to tear down the housing he convinced Galef to support. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, supports Ferncliff’s demolition plan too, as does Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Mount Pleasant, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.
Abinanti was a member of the Greenburgh Town Council in 1990, when he voted in favor of the pact. Today, he says the needs of the disabled in Yonkers should take precedence over the agreement he voted for in 1990 to provide housing for his constituents in Greenburgh.
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, whose district includes both Greenburgh and Yonkers, is straddling the fence, as she works to not alienate multiple constituencies in her district: the owners of the Yonkers agency, Ferncliff Manor; the families who send their children there; the Greenburgh Town Council, which has voting unanimously to support the Ferncliff plan; and the local NAACP chapter, which wants to save the housing.
Stewart-Cousins says she wants the county and town to live up to the 1990 agreement, which requires that the apartments be rented for low- and moderate income tenants. She also wants to serve the needs of Ferncliff, which, according to the plan submitted to the state, requires tearing down the housing. That would make makes living up to the 1990 agreement impossible, but Stewart-Cousins said Sunday she wants to find a solution that would serve affordable-housing proponents and the Ferncliff backers.
“I’m serving as a mediator,” said Stewart-Cousins.
Ferncliff’s proposal, which was submitted to the state Department of Education, also requires approvals from two state agencies: the Office of Children and Family Services, and the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. The state agencies under Cuomo recently began their review, a state spokesman said.
Cuomo, whose triumph at WestHELP was one of the crowning moments early in his housing career, went on to become the nation’s highest ranking housing official, as secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Renewal in the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001.
Since the WestHELP demolition plan surfaced in April, 2012, Cuomo has remained silent on the proposal to tear down the apartments he worked ferociously to build. They stand about 13 miles from his Westchester residence in New Castle. Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing on Monday declined comment.
Photos: Sandy Galef, at top; Andrew Cuomo, at State of State Address; Andrea Stewart-Cousins greeting US Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, in Mahopac.