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Following up on a campaign promise, and answering the call of the business community and housing advocates, Westchester County Executive George Latimer released the long awaited Housing Needs Assessment.

Read the full report: www.westchestergov.com/housing-needs-assessment

Latimer said: “Affordable housing is a major contributing factor to a balanced and well-functioning county and in turn, its communities and neighborhoods. To that end, Westchester County undertook this Housing Needs Assessment to establish a data-based foundation for the creation and preservation of affordable housing in Westchester County.”

This Assessment is not a fair share housing allocation plan; it does not assign any number of units to specific municipalities. The Assessment looks at the County’s history of housing policies; lays out the methodology for data analysis; provides findings on a wide variety of demographic, housing stock and housing affordability issues; and provides recommendations, including Best Practices from across the country, to help the County move forward in addressing its affordable housing needs.

County Planning Board Chair Richard Hyman said: “Without understanding and quantifying the needs for both market rate and fair and affordable housing, it would be very difficult to successfully develop plans and programs to meet those needs.”

Housing Opportunity Commission Chair Lindsay Carden said: “The Housing Needs Assessment is important as it will reveal what we already to know that exists in Westchester County – a severe lack of affordable housing. It is hoped that this report although sobering will motivate municipalities and communities to action allowing this tool to be utilized as a bridge not a barrier.” 

Housing Action Council Executive Director Rose Noonan said: “The Assessment provides an important baseline of information on County-wide and local housing needs against which we can measure our progress in addressing those needs. It is a critical tool to guide local housing and land use dialogues, to demonstrate to funders our needs, and to develop public and private initiatives that effectively respond to the needs.”

Westchester County Association Executive Board Member and CBRE Executive Vice President William V. Cuddy, Jr. said: “Westchester’s long and short-term economic viability is predicated upon our housing inventory meeting the demands of our workforce. The County Executive’s report demonstrates our dereliction in delivering adequate, accessible and affordable housing. It’s a call to action. If we don’t address the miscarriage of our policies and perspectives, we fail our families and workers. The problem may be intractable, but it isn’t insurmountable.”

The Business Council of Westchester President /CEO Dr. Marsha Gordon said: “As we look to recruit and retain Westchester's future workforce we need all levels of government to focus on how we can create future workforce housing so that employees can not only work in Westchester but also can live here and raise their families.”

Center for Housing Solutions and Urban Initiatives Executive Director Joseph Czajka said: “The Westchester County Housing Needs Assessment provides a wealth of research and data analysis that culminates in a series of recommendations to expand housing options across the county. The overwhelming need for affordable housing can be addressed through collaborative efforts between the county and local governments and private and non-profit housing developers, advocates and service providers. It was a pleasure working in partnership with the county and housing network in Westchester to begin a process of addressing the housing needs.”

This Assessment used a standard statistical approach viewing Westchester County as a whole and with a separate look at the municipalities. Additional research and analysis was conducted through plans and reports, but also through interviews with stakeholders and several public forums.

 Assessment Findings:

  • There are 345,885 housing units in Westchester; 81 percdent of the housing units in the county were built before 1979;
  • The City of Yonkers has the most housing units with 82,562; the Village of Buchanan has the fewest with only 864;
  • 62 percent of the County’s units are ownership – slightly lower than the 63 percent national average; while 38 percent are rental units;
  • There are 2,476 Public Housing Units and 13,092 Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers units;
  • There are 34,221 ETPA (Emergency Tenant Protection Act) units in 1,773 buildings in the county;
  • 141,570 households (41.4 percent of the total number in the county) are living in homes and apartments that are paying more than 50 percent of their income toward their housing costs;
  • There is a significant shortage of housing for extremely low income renters, people with disabilities, seniors, large families and the homeless; In particular, families and individuals who face intellectual and developmental disabilities, who need specialized housing with services, are not being adequately served;
  • There are 89,839 people living in poverty in Westchester (9.4 percent of the total population);
  • The greatest growth in population is in the 85 and over cohort (e.g. the Towns of Lewisboro and Pound Ridge with 232 percent and 202 percent increases respectively), between 2000 and 2017, demonstrating the need for senior housing;
  • The combined population of the five largest cities represent 46 percent of the total population in the county;
  • The 30-44 age cohort shows decline, which may mean there aren’t enough affordable housing options for young families;
  • More people commute into Westchester to work than those who live and work in the county; the majority of commuters (58 percent) drive alone to work;
  • There is no municipality where the market rate rent for a 2-BR unit is affordable to households earning the local hourly renter wage; the greatest monthly gap, at $1,823, is in the Village of Pleasantville; municipalities with gaps over $1,700 are in the City of Peekskill, the Town of Bedford and the Village of Port Chester;
  • There are only three municipalities where the HUD FMR is affordable to households earning the local hourly renter wage – the Town of New Castle, and the villages of Bronxville and Pelham Manor;
  • The Housing Action Council found that 68.6 percent of households seeking housing under the Housing Settlement were already living in Westchester; there were 9,260 applicants for 395 affordable rental units in development – a ratio of 23 applicants for every unit of rental housing; and
  • The combined population of persons with disabilities in the cities of Peekskill, Yonkers and Mount Vernon account for 42 percent of the county’s population with a disability.

In this report, the three major components of the data analysis: Housing Cost Burden, Housing Conditions and a Projection of Current Housing Need are provided at the County level and for each municipality.

  • The finding that 50.7 percent of all owner households earning between 30 percent and 50 percent of the County’s Area Median Income (AMI) are severely cost burdened should not be a surprise, but the conclusion that 22.9 percent of households earning between 80 percent and 100 percent of AMI might be (when one considers that a family of 4 at 100 percent AMI earns approximately $117,100 in Westchester County). It is important to note that these households have housing; but they cannot comfortably afford it.
  • Similarly, the Assessment concludes that 2,556 households in the county live in substandard housing.
  • The Assessment also concludes that 4,523 households are severely overcrowded.

Data compiled under these three components of housing need document the county’s existing housing stock with one or more problems as 75,271 units (22 percent of all units in the county). This is the greatest portion of the need for affordable housing in Westchester County, but does not reflect the entire need.

Collectively, all these data sources tell us that the need for affordable housing in Westchester County totals 82,451 units; however the greatest portion of these units are not substandard, so addressing the affordability of some portion of these units could be through rental assistance programs like the federal Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program.

The total number of new affordable housing units needed is 11,703. This represents the total number of Westchester households that are severely overcrowded or Homeless, as well as the non-Westchester Homeseeker registrants.

In response to the data found and the analysis conducted, this Assessment includes 12 Recommendations for the County to consider for implementation to start to address the identified need. Many of these recommendations are included in the Latimer’ proposed 2020 budget.

The 12 Recommendations are:

1. Affordable Housing Education Workshop Series: Contract with an organization with a focus on housing policy, education, technical assistance and municipal engagement to establish a series of workshops to facilitate educational sessions regarding affordable housing.

2. Increase the Community Based Organization Capacity: Establish an annual funding allocation to cover the tuition associated with professional certification programs in housing and community development through NeighborWorks America®.

3. Housing Inventory and Tracking System: Conduct a bi-annual update of the existing affordable housing inventory - utilizing the existing housing inventory database.  Establish a permanent tracking and monitoring system of all housing developments over 10 units. Share with economic development entities and Industrial Development Agencies to ensure housing and wages are in alignment.

4. Community Land Trust: Create a countywide community land trust and focus on capturing housing headed into foreclosure as an eviction prevention strategy, but keeping it flexible to address a multitude of development concerns.

5. Municipal Ordinances: Design a formal program to provide technical assistance to municipalities to draft model ordinances for example, Accessory Dwelling Units, specifically targeted for affordable housing.

6. Adaptive Reuse of Under-Utilized Property: Design a property disposition program for the adaptive re-use of land and buildings, including older office park campuses, for the purpose of developing new affordable housing.

7. Housing Compact between County and Municipalities: Gather support from the local businesses, municipalities and community based organizations to work together to meet the needs of affordable housing in the County.

8. Neighborhood Revitalization Opportunities: Utilize the Affordable Housing Needs Assessment data in addition to existing web-based systems to explore the specific needs of individual neighborhoods and establish a data rich system to analyze community conditions.

9. Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Services: Expand existing eviction and foreclosure prevention programs.

10. Employer Assisted Housing Program: Establish an Employer Assisted Housing program by creating public-private partnerships with major employers, hospitals, county staff and large-scale not-for-profit housing providers and healthcare agencies.

11. Pre-development and Preservation Options: Create and provide funding for not-for-profit housing agencies for pre-development costs associated with the construction and preservation of affordable housing.

12: Funding Opportunities: Offers a couple of examples of options to provide a source of funding to undertake the recommendations above and increase the funding stream for the County’s affordable housing programs.

The County’s next steps will shape the conversation on affordable housing for the foreseeable future.