White Plains Expands Affordable Rental Housing Program
Real Estate In-Depth | May 2019
WHITE PLAINS—The White Plains Common Council recently passed significant changes to the city’s Affordable Rental Housing Program at its May 6th session. The changes had originally been proposed in February by Mayor Tom Roach and represent a focused effort and commitment by the mayor and Common Council to increase the overall number of affordable housing units in the city.
With the changes the City of White Plains Affordable Rental Housing Program will become one of the most progressive in the region, city officials noted.
The City of White Plains has shown a strong commitment to affordable housing. Its program, which has been in place since 2003, requires multi-family developments to provide a 10% set-aside of affordable units reserved for those at 80% of the Westchester County Area Median Income (AMI) range. Alternatively, a developer could seek Common Council approval to provide 6% affordable units at the lower 60% AMI range. AMI is determined annually by HUD.
The legislation passed on May 6th expands the City’s Affordable Rental Housing Program (ARHP) in several ways. First, it would make the program applicable citywide in areas where multi-family housing with 10 or more units is permitted by the zoning code. Currently, the program applies primarily in the downtown area.
Second, the proposal expands eligibility for the program to those whose incomes are 50% of AMI. The city’s current Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice reveals that there are few housing options for those in this income range. Subsidized housing exists for those whose income is below the 50% AMI threshold, and the ARHP is available to those whose income is above this threshold. This change would close an important identified gap in the current program.
Third, the proposal would increase affordable set aside amounts to 12% of units at 80% AMI and to 8% at 50% and 60% AMI. Developers would have the discretion to select either the 8% or 12% option.
Fourth, the proposal would establish a buy-out of up to 25 of the required affordable rental units as an option for developers. The funds generated from the buy-out option would go into the city’s existing Affordable Housing Assistance Fund (AHAF) and would be used to create a range of housing assistance programs and more affordable units. For example, the funds could be used for down payment assistance, land acquisition or project construction expenses for the development or rehabilitation of affordable housing, to defray a portion of the city’s administrative costs associated with management of the program, and other actions taken for the furtherance of increasing affordable housing city-wide.
A separate proposal also aimed at increasing affordability will be introduced at an upcoming Council meeting. This legislation will propose increasing the annual income eligibility limits under the Senior Citizen Rental Income Exemption (SCRIE) program and authorize the city to participate in the Disabled Rental Income Exemption (DRIE) program. The city has participated in SCRIE for many years. Several years ago, the city increased the income eligibility limit under SCRIE to its current $30,000 level. In an effort to encourage more participation in these programs, the proposal would increase the income eligibility limits to the current state maximum of $50,000/year. These programs apply to those who live in Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA) buildings, of which there are many in the city. Tenants in ETPA buildings who are participating in the SCRIE or DRIE programs are protected from rent increases and building owners receive a tax credit for their participation in the program.
“While this program has certainly been successful in creating affordable rental housing units in the city, we recognize that maintaining White Plains as an affordable place to live for people of all income levels strengthens our city. It also requires our consistent attention to ensure that our program is meeting the housing needs of our residents,” said Mayor Roach.
Council Member Nadine Hunt-Robinson said, ‘We are always looking for ways to improve our city, and the expansion of our affordable housing program ensures that White Plains remains accessible to people of varied income levels. This is vital to maintaining the diversity that makes our city a great place to live, work and play. In addition, after championing an increase to SCRIE/DRIE protections a few years ago, I am pleased that we are now raising the income eligibility limit further to the state maximum.”