WHITE PLAINS – Westchester County is rethinking its approach to housing. Spurred by “a crisis of affordability,” County Executive George Latimer and his office have partnered with the Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress to release a “significant and substantial” assessment of the county’s housing needs. Their findings, which provide “snapshot of the realities of (Westchester’s) housing situation,” will inform a major effort by the county government to combat the rising cost of living in the area.
The greatest need, as revealed by the data compiled, is for rental assistance. 41% of Westchester households are “cost-burdened” meaning that they spend more than half of their annual income on housing alone. In addition, 4,500 apartments in the county are considered overcrowded while 2,500 units are classified as “substandard” and in need of significant renovation. That problem extends to houses as well; 81% of the homes in Westchester were built before 1979, most of them constructed between 1950 and 1959, well over a decade before the ban of lead-based paint. Most disturbingly, there is not a signal municipality in the county where a two-bedroom apartment is affordable for those earning the local hourly renter wage. In total, 82,451 units of affordable housing are needed to meet the county’s current demand for inexpensive living. The county executive stressed that these statics describe the entirety of Westchester; problems are countywide and affecting every citizen.
Fortunately, the assessment includes several recommendations on how to mitigate these issues. Much of the demand for affordable housing can be resolved by providing some sort of financial relief to those living in cost-burdened homes. While the county will have to build 11,000 new housing units to meet the needs of the community, the majority of its affordable housing needs can be met without new construction.
The assessment recommends forming a “public-private partnership” between the county government and major job providers to create an employer-assisted housing program. The Executives office has already requested $500,000 to jump-start such a program and has also asked for 10 million dollars to build new low-income housing.
The report also encourages the creation of a community land trust that would “focus on capturing housing headed into foreclosure as an eviction prevention strategy” and a “housing inventory system” which would bi-annually update the list of low-income residences available in Westchester; such an inventory would allow Westchester to better identify and aid neighborhoods in need of revitalization. Finally, the county plans to design “a property dispensation program” that will identify buildings and office parks within the county that can be repurposed for affordable housing.