Westchester County Executive Warns of Housing ‘Affordability Crisis’

John Jordan | November 13, 2019

Westchester County Executive George Latimer presents his 2020 budget at the Business Council of Westchester's Key Bank Speaker Series

TARRYTOWN—Westchester County Executive George Latimer in a presentation to the business community on his proposed $2.1-billion 2020 Budget touted the $1 million cut in the Westchester County property tax levy that will reduce tax levies in some areas of the county.

In a county-produced video presentation to the nearly 200 attendees of the Business Council of Westchester’s Key Bank Speaker Series at the Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown, Latimer stated, “We have a crisis in affordability in housing in Westchester County. We are looking at what is the need across the board to make sure there are units out there that are targeted for people whose incomes are not Wall Street-level compensation incomes.”

He added, “We have got to have that diversity in Westchester County. We need people who are working in a variety of different capacities to live near where they work and that makes affordable housing very essential for us.”

In the county’s effort to promote affordable housing, Westchester County Executive Latimer told the Business Council of Westchester gathering that as part of his 2020 operating budget, the county is requesting $1.5 million for a series of services and programs that offer pre-development loans for housing organizations, financial literacy, eviction prevention and other initiatives.

Latimer in his 2020 Capital Budget has requested $20 million in new appropriations: $10 million for the New Homes Land Acquisition Fund to obtain land for the development of affordable housing and $10 million for the Housing Implementation Fund for the construction of infrastructure necessary to support the development of affordable housing. These are the highest amounts ever requested for these two funds, he noted.

Latimer said that the development of affordable housing in Westchester County is not just sound policy, but also leads to increased economic development.

In other real estate-related programs, the proposed budget would provide $1 million for the county’s Economic Development department, which would include funding for a new update on its comprehensive long-term economic development strategy and implementation plan. The County Executive noted the last economic development long-term plan was completed nearly two decades ago.

The funding will also help finance its recently launched Element 46 Incubator program, as well as workforce training.

This is the first time in nearly a decade that the county has proposed a budget that reduces the county property tax levy. The cut to the tax levy is due in large part to the “Westchester County Property Taxpayer Protection Act,” which shares back 20% to municipalities and 10% to school districts. The 30% calculates out to more than $40 million that will help provide additional property tax relief.

For example, the share-back is directly responsible for the 0% increase to the Greenburgh property tax rate. Greenburgh expects to receive $3.2 million in unanticipated revenues in 2019 and 2020.

For the 2020 Budget, the county will also have no “one-shot” deals, which Latimer termed a step in the right direction to restore the county’s once sterling Triple A Bond rating. Further, the budget memorializes Latimer’s commitment to rebuild the county’s reserves—reserves that were nearly depleted. Latimer has directed that $10 million be added to the county’s “rainy day fund,” bringing it up to $79 million—a 23% increase from just one year ago.

The 2020 budget also features zero borrowing for operating expenses. All ongoing expenses, including pension obligations and tax certioraris, will be paid through the operating budget not borrowed.

Among some of the other initiatives the County Executive reported at the session included a revamped Human Rights Commission and the hiring of a Hate Crime Specialist to combat and prevent hate crime incidents in the county.

Latimer said that in addition to being wrong, hate crimes are “just bad for business.” He added, “Hate has no home in Westchester County and Westchester County is open for business and in a way that embraces everybody. If you come into this county and you have talent and ability, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, it doesn’t what way you worship, it doesn’t matter anything else other than what you can contribute to the society at large.”

Latimer has earmarked in his proposed budget $400,000 for additional funding for environmental initiatives including storm water gauges and Planting Westchester, a program that will plant trees, greenery and add community gardens for food security and carbon sequestration.

Latimer has allocated $150,000 for Census 2020 initiatives to ensure that every resident in Westchester is counted so the county does not lose out on both federal representation and federal funding.

In addition, Latimer reported that Rye Playland had the highest attendance in the past four years, Latimer said he has proposed a $250,000 increase in Playland’s marketing budget bringing the total amount now to $1.2 million in 2020.

The County Executive also touted his administration’s 10-year contract with Wheelabrator, the operator of the waste-to-energy plant at Charles Point and five-year deal with Liberty Lines, which operates the county bus system.

Latimer, when first proposing his 2020 budget proposal, stated, “We made a commitment to freeze county property taxes, and now we can go a bit further and cut the county’s property tax levy by $1 million. This budget is about the people who live in Westchester County, it is about giving them some property tax relief, and at the same time working to make their county the best it can be—by providing services and programs taxpayers rely on while placing the county back onto solid financial ground.”

The business community seems to be embracing Latimer’s proposal. The Business Council of Westchester President and 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.”

Westchester County Association President and CEO William M. Mooney, Jr. said of the Latimer 2020 proposed budget, “The Westchester County Association has long recognized the importance of housing in recruiting and retaining a talented workforce. Our Real Estate Taskforce has been partnering with the county and local governments on this issue. We applaud County Executive Latimer for including $20 million in capital and $1.5 million for housing programs in his 2020 budget.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth