County Brokers Deal on Affordable Units At Avalon’s Harrison Multifamily Project

John Jordan | March 3, 2015

HARRISON—The Astorino administration announced on March 12 it had brokered a deal between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, developer AvalonBay Communities and the Town of Harrison to set aside 5% of the planned 143 residential units to be developed on land adjacent to the Metro North Harrison train station here.

The lack of affordable units at the proposed development was criticized by a number of fair housing groups, including the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition, which applauded County Executive Robert Astorino and Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett for their work in brokering a deal. The coalition in a prepared statement called the 5% set aside “inadequate” but characterized the deal itself as “a major step forward.”

“The Harrison Town Board has been working on this project for years,” said Supervisor Ron Belmont. “This development is going to give a giant boost to our downtown and now we are at the point where the vision becomes reality.”

The key to making seven units affordable was to find a formula that kept the project economically feasible for the builder, while also keeping the overall density and number of units at levels that the Town Board felt was appropriate for the community. Financing to be provided by the county will also help to strike the right balance, county officials stated.

“This is an example of how housing gets built and home rule and local zoning is still respected,” said Westchester County Executive Astorino. “I want to thank all the parties for their cooperation in moving the project forward.”

The county will provide up to $1 million in subsidies for seven apartments and in exchange the county expects those units to be counted toward Westchester’s obligation to develop 750 units of affordable housing under the 2009 settlement reached between the federal government and the county. Harrison is one of 31 communities designated for the settlement’s affordable units. The MTA’s involvement in the project includes giving its 3.3-acre site to AvalonBay in exchange for 475 commuter spaces in a parking garage to be built by AvalonBay. Occupants of the affordable units will be determined through a lottery among qualified applicants whose income does not exceed 60% of Westchester’s median income.

Commenting on the affordable housing deal at the AvalonBay multifamily property, Alexander Roberts, a member of the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition and executive director of Community Housing Innovations, said, “It breaks a quarter century of resistance to affordable housing in the county’s most resistant town.”

The coalition includes over a dozen members, including Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, the White Plains/Greenburgh NAACP, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Westchester Hispanic Coalition.  Although the number of units is small– seven apartments in a project of 143 luxury units—the Coalition said that it demonstrates that the county can successfully influence even “the most intransigent, exclusionary communities to make room for working class families and equal opportunity.”

The Coalition stated that it believes the county should have an easier time requiring the town to include at least 10% affordable housing in two proposed new developments that are currently going through the local approvals process and contain 463 apartments.

“To do less,” said Jim Killoran of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, “would continue the exodus of business and young people from Westchester County due to lack of workforce housing. We have enough luxury housing in New York. Westchester is the highest taxed county and people of all ages can’t afford to live here. We need to change that now.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth