Where are the Affordable Housing Options in the Hudson Valley?
Mary Prenon | August 15, 2022
The phrase “affordable housing” may seem like an oxymoron in the Hudson Valley, where second quarter median sales prices for single-family homes soared to $885,000 in Westchester, $645,000 in Rockland, $617,500 in the Bronx, $480,000 in Putnam, and $415,000 in Orange County. Only Sullivan County held out as somewhat affordable with a median single-family home price of $259,900, according to OneKey MLS data.
Rental costs are no different, with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in White Plains at $3,093, according to Rent Café. New Rochelle’s average rent came in at $2,499 and Yonkers, $2,253. Middletown in Orange County had a significant difference at $1,839 and in the Bronx, $1,682.
So what housing options are out there for the average family, single person, or senior living on social security?
Westchester Residential Opportunities has been working hard for the past 55 years to alleviate the dilemma of finding safe and affordable housing. Founded in 1968, WRO’s mission is promoting equal, affordable and accessible housing for all residents in the region.
Basically, affordability is defined as a household paying no more than 30% of its gross income toward housing costs. For example, if two people in a household have a combined income of $100,000, they should be spending no more than $30,000 annually on housing—either rent or mortgage payments.
Anything over 30% is considered to be a cost burden, while more than 50% is deemed as a severe cost burden. A 2019 Westchester County assessment survey found that 41% of the population paid more than 30% of household income toward rents or mortgage payments.
“There’s just not enough affordable housing in our region, and it’s even more difficult now with the cost-of-living increases in food and gas prices,” said Marlene Zarfes, WRO Executive Director. “One of the reasons for this is that different areas have different zoning laws and the larger parcels are typically zoned for single-family homes.”
As a result, noted Zarfes, most of Westchester’s affordable housing can be found in the cities like Yonkers, New Rochelle, Peekskill and Mount Vernon, which allow for more multiple dwellings. Since many of these residents may not have cars, they also need to be close to public transportation.
Many of the calls WRO receives are from seniors, people with disabilities, single parents, or young people who want to move out of their parents’ homes but can’t afford the market rents. “Most of these people are working full-time jobs but still can’t manage the escalating rental costs or home prices,” added Zarfes. “We also see a lot of people coming up from Manhattan looking for something more affordable here.”
Zarfes indicates the problem of finding affordable housing in the area is something affecting people from all walks of life. “It’s all races, genders and ages,” she said. “Housing is one of the most important things in someone’s life.”
Through its AffordableWestchester.org website, WRO offers listings of affordable homes for rent or purchase. Most are available to qualified applicants on a lottery basis, although some may be first come, first served.
Listed as “coming soon” are 141 studio, one and two-bedroom apartments at High Garden Tower in New Rochelle with rents ranging from $1,264 to $2,166 per month. In addition, five one and two-bedroom units at Path Knolls Apartments will be available in Ossining, with monthly rents from $1,453 to $1,751.
A one-bedroom unit in Bowridge Commons in Rye Brook will be available for re-sale soon for those considering purchasing a home. “Often, when people talk about affordable housing, they think it will be substandard housing and occupied by homeless people,” said Zarfes. “But the fact is, many of these are working people and affordable housing is now being constructed to blend in with the local community.”
Wilder Balter Partners Development LLC, a residential real estate development firm based in Chappaqua, has been building both market rate and affordable housing throughout the Hudson Valley and tri-state area for the last 30 years. “There’s still a great need for well-priced housing of all types throughout the Hudson Valley, and we make sure that all of our affordable developments look just like our other beautiful residential communities,” said Bill Balter.
The firm, along with Griffin Construction LLC, has worked with many housing authorities throughout the region to build new housing, remodel existing structures, and incorporate affordable units within some market rate rental buildings. Their 35 communities include 3,670 apartments in the tri-state area, and another nine now in development that will add almost 2,000 apartments.
A 109-unit affordable, multifamily rental community for seniors is currently under construction on Main Street in Tarrytown. Located at the site of the former Tarrytown YMCA, it will include 14 studios and 95 one-bedroom apartments. Featured amenities are a lounge, library, exercise room, computer and laundry rooms and a rooftop park.
The development is being financed by the New York State Housing Finance Agency, Westchester County, and the Tarrytown Housing Fund, and is expected to be complete by 2023.
On Peekskill’s Main Street, WBP Development is building 82 affordable rental units, again financed by the NYS Housing Agency and Westchester County. With similar amenities to the Tarrytown project, the building is slated for competition by next year as well.
Station Plaza, a 109-unit affordable multifamily rental community in Ossining, will include one, two and three-bedroom apartments, plus retail and community space. The building will also be within walking distance of the Hudson River waterfront and the Metro-North train station.
“Generally, we have to do a lot of education to the local communities about what we’re proposing,” explained Balter. “We even bring people to our other communities, so they can get a better understanding of what we build.”
Additional completed rental developments include Roundtop Commons in Montrose, Hillcrest Commons in Carmel, Jacobs Hill in Cortlandt Manor, and Livingston Arms in Poughkeepsie. Chappaqua Crossing, a market-rate rental property at the former Reader’s Digest building, offers a limited number of affordable rental units. “Our goal in building these communities is to ensure that they’ll remain affordable in the long-term,” added Balter.
For those who may not qualify for affordable housing, but still want a stakehold on home ownership, co-ops are still the most affordable housing option. The OneKey MLS second quarter report showed Westchester’s median co-op sales price at $203,000.
“Co-ops are a good opportunity for first-time homebuyers as well as people who are downsizing,” said Barry Kramer, WRO Board member and Broker-Owner of BHG Real Estate Choice Realty in Scarsdale and Hartsdale. While the costs are definitely lower than condos or single-family homes, Kramer cautions potential co-op buyers about retaining sufficient funds for a down payment and maintenance costs.
Down payment requirements vary from building to building, with some insisting on 20% to 50% of the total cost. On a $200,000 co-op, a 20% down payment of $40,000, plus cash reserves to cover maintenance costs, could be overwhelming for many younger people just starting their careers. “Not only would they have to provide the cash down, but they’d also need to show liquid assets for the next six or 12 months to demonstrate they can cover the monthly maintenance charges,” Kramer explained. “This would likely be less of an issue for seniors, who may be downsizing after the sale of a larger home.”
Kramer also notes that co-op costs can vary drastically based on their locations. “Prices are usually going to be higher than the median in areas like Bronxville or Scarsdale,” he added.
To educate first time homebuyers, WRO continues to offer its online First-Time Home Buyers Program, which is a two-hour webinar presenting an overview of the homebuying process, and housing options.
On October 13, WRO will hold its Fair & Affordable Housing Symposium at the White Plains Library from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free to attend and will include a reception afterwards.