WestHelpOct. 27, 2017 - Flanked by Greenburgh officials, county legislators, school board members, and local neighbors, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino on Thursday announced a $1.5 million agreement to convert the long-closed WestHelp homeless shelter on county property adjacent to Westchester Community College into 54 units of affordable housing for seniors.

“Westchester County is committed to affordable housing, and nowhere is it more important than providing homes that allow seniors to remain in the county and close to their families and friends,” said Astorino. “Putting this property to use for seniors benefits everyone in the county.”

Under the terms of the deal, two affiliates of the Marathon Development Group – Mayfair Housing and Mayfair Housing Development Fund Company – will lease the six-acre property from Westchester County for 65 years for the purpose of rehabilitating and operating 54 rental apartments for low and moderate income seniors ages 62 and older.

Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner said the senior housing would be welcome. “I am pleased that the county, town and neighborhood were able to reach an agreement to build much needed affordable senior citizen housing,” said Feiner. “Almost every day I receive calls from seniors who are looking for affordable housing opportunities. This agreement will enhance the quality of life for those senior citizens who will be lucky enough to move into a beautiful development on the grounds of Westchester Community College. Another benefit to the location: the seniors could take courses at the college – another quality of life enhancement.”

Seniors who meet the age and income criteria for the homes will be selected on the basis of a lottery. The income restrictions are: 60 percent of the units will be for seniors with incomes at or below 60 percent of the area median income (AMI); 20 percent of the units are for seniors with incomes at or below 50 percent of the AMI and the remainder are for seniors with incomes at or below 90 percent of the AMI.

At 60 percent of the AMI, a single senior can earn up to $46,800, and a two-person household can earn up to $53,520 to be eligible for an apartment. The agreement now goes to the County Board of Legislators, where it needs 12 votes for approval.

“The WestHelp site was established as a homeless shelter and served a critical need for many years,” said Michael Kaplowitz, chairman of the County Board of Legislators. “Affordable housing remains a major challenge in Westchester County, especially for seniors and I urge my legislative colleagues to join me in supporting this new use for the WestHelp site. I and my entire staff have been working diligently with the Town of Greenburgh, the County Executive and potential developers to help bring about an amicable solution to what had been a complicated issue for years. I’m proud that we’ve been able to find a resolution and I thank all the parties involved.”

Legislator Margaret Cunzio, C-Mount Pleasant, whose district will include the new senior center, added: “I’m very pleased that this project is moving forward. Senior housing is certainly needed throughout Westchester County. Seniors deserve the opportunity to live in the communities in which they raised their families. This proposal will now undergo the necessary due diligence by the Board of Legislators. This process must include our community partners, including the school district and neighbors, to ensure the best possible agreement. I look forward to the discussion with my colleagues.”

Discussions among the stakeholders involved in converting the former shelter into affordable housing for seniors – the County, the Town of Greenburgh, Marathon Development Group, the Mayfair-Knollwood Civic Association, and the Valhalla School District – have been ongoing for years. A framework acceptable to all the parties emerged about a year ago and the time since has been spent working out the legal and operational details.

“At a time when gentrification has become the norm in Westchester communities, senior citizens on fixed incomes are often forced to forego quality housing in an effort to remain close to friends and family,” said Mark Soja, president of Marathon Development Group. “This proposal represents a unique opportunity to address that situation by redeveloping an abandoned property as an asset for the community, which will provide critically needed affordable housing for some of Westchester County’s most vulnerable residents –low and moderate-income senior citizens aged 62 and over.”

The senior complex is expected to have minimal, if any, impact on the surrounding neighborhood and the local school district. While the homeless shelter, which had been in operation on the site from 1991 to 2011, had 108 units, the number of senior units will be half that, which honors a decades-old agreement to reduce the number of units following the closing of the shelter. In addition, the lease requires Mayfair to bring eviction proceedings against any occupants who don’t meet the age criteria of 62 and above.

“A key concern of our neighborhood has always been that our small school district would be overwhelmed by a large residential development,” said Marie Smith and James Johnson, co-presidents of the Mayfair-Knollwood Civic Association. “This proposal strikes the right balance. We would like to thank County Executive Astorino for crafting a solution that adheres to the safeguards in the original lease and that everyone stands to benefit from going forward.”

School officials also applauded the arrival of the senior complex. “This will be a welcome addition to our community,” said Dr. Brenda Myers, superintendent of the Valhalla Union Free School District. “The location for this senior housing is perfect for our senior citizens with the college nearby and it will allow the district to plan more intergenerational activities with our community members.”

The property is owned by Westchester County and had been leased to Greenburgh. To make way for the senior development, Greenburgh is terminating its lease in return for the $600,000 payment. The remaining $900,000 payment will go to the county.

Mayfair has committed to making $6 million in repairs and capital improvements within three years. Residential work includes restructuring the 108 original studio units into 54 larger apartments – 26 with two bedrooms and 28 with one bedroom, as well as renovations of kitchens, bathrooms, and floors. Plans for the original administration building include office areas, sitting and reading rooms, a computer and learning center and a laundry room in the basement. The buildings will be wired for cable television.

For information on housing opportunities, visit  www.westchestergov.com/homeseeker.

Photo: County Executive Robert P. Astorino is joined by Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, Legislator Margaret Cunzio, Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner, Mark Soja, president of Marathon Development Group, and members of the Valhalla Union Free School District’s Board of Education and the Mayfair-Knollwood Civic Association.