Why the Greenburgh Town Board Took Action

photo by: judith ebenstein

Yesterday, the Greenburgh Town Board approved a resolution authorizing the Town Supervisor to sign an agreement with an affordable housing company (Marathon) to manage 54 one and two bedroom units of affordable housing for families. I received some e mails and phone calls from residents asking -why the change from senior housing to lower income families. This e mail is being written to clarify the actions the Town Board is taking.

In 2011 the county closed WestHELP, a homeless shelter located off of Knollwood Road. WestHELP was built on the grounds of Westchester Community College in Greenburgh by Andrew Cuomo (when his father was Governor). According to an agreement  made in 1990 the town has rights to the property for 30 years commencing upon the termination of the WestHELP lease. The requirement: the town must provide housing for low and moderate income persons. If we do not – the property reverts back to the county. The town has rights to the property for approximately 15 more years.

Since the WestHELP facility closed – the town has tried to use the property for a public purpose. Every time we tried taking  an action our efforts were blocked by someone. We originally tried to work out an agreement with Ferncliff (an agency that provides services to the developmentally disabled population). NYS rejected the request. We then tried to lease the property to an affordable housing developer based out of state. The developer (who wanted to build senior housing & who offered the town significant rental income) was subjected to lots of attacks and later backed down. We reached out to the community -suggesting dormitories at the Community College for students (there’s a big need for college dorms in Westchester). Nearby residents told us that they did not want students living next to them.

We then decided to work quietly. For over a year we have been reaching out to county officials. Town Board members Ken Jones and Kevin Morgan worked very hard meeting with county and school officials. We came up with a proposal to build 74 units of affordable housing for seniors 62 years and older. The town would receive $2.2 million minus mold remediation costs. Valhalla school officials met with town officials and did not object.  According to the proposal the lease would be extended between Westchester  and the town for 30 years. –not the 15 years.  A 30 year lease makes it easier for the developer to get a return on their investment since lots of money will be spent on renovations.

Members of the Town Board and I met with the County Executive’s office last month. We walked in thinking the county was on board and left the meeting very discouraged. A number of obstacles to this proposal were highlighted by the county administration—among them: they want 54 units, not 74. They expressed concerns about extending the lease for 30 years claiming that the Community College might need the property in the future for non housing related purposes.  I have written to all the members of the Community College Board of Trustees seeking a meeting with them. I think senior housing at a Community College would be very beneficial to the college: more intergeneration programs.

This past week Marathon (the affordable housing company the town has been working with) came up with a compromise proposal: 54 apartments –instead of 74. The units would be 2 bedroom units—all senior citizen housing. 62 years old, age restriction. Instead of the town receiving 2.2 million minus mold remediation costs the town would receive 1.9 million minus the mold remediation. The condition: the lease would also have to be extended to 30 years, an action that the county government would have to take since the town does not have rights to the property after 15 years.  Seniors are quiet neighbors!

Renovating WestHELP is expensive. It’s difficult to find a developer who will spend money on renovations if they have to shut down the housing complex in 15 years — a short period of time. Fortunately, Marathon (which manages 90 and 100 Manhattan Ave, 33 Oak Street) has come up with a plan. If the county rejects option 1 and 2 (senior housing) the town will enter into an agreement with Marathon to manage the units for use by qualified families who meet income guidelines for the balance of the time that the town has an interest in the property. Permission by the county would not be needed since the town will be using the property for 54 one and two bedroom units of affordable rental housing for families. Because the complex could conceivably close down in 15 years – when the county regains possession of the property–the developer probably won’t spend as much money on the renovations.

The County Executive’s office advised the Town Board that they would advise the town sometime around Labor Day whether or not they will support a proposal to extend the lease for 30 years and to allow senior citizen housing at the abandoned WestHELP site. The Town Board and I would be thrilled if the county and town could work together cooperatively to create affordable housing for seniors at this site. There is a large number of senior citizens interested in moving to this complex. Every week one or two seniors call me hoping to move in if the senior housing is approved.  Interesting— Earlier this year more than a half dozen elderly nuns expressed interest in living at the senior housing complex, if it is built! 

If the county decides that they don’t want to tie up the property for 30 years and don’t want the senior housing I will sign an agreement with WestHELP to manage 54 one and two bedroom apartments of affordable rental housing. I hope that the renovations could start this fall and that the buildings will be occupied in 2016. Marathon has a good track record managing affordable housing in Westchester.

No one benefits leaving a beautiful housing complex vacant. The WestHELP complex in Greenburgh has received national attention for its design and beauty. We need to work together so people can continue to enjoy living at this location. All the members of the Town Board are committed to using this property for affordable housing—senior housing or (if the county rejects the senior option) affordable housing



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About the Author: Paul Feiner