To the Editor:
Readers of Black Westchester alerted me this week to Mechelle Brown’s open letter to members of the Greenburgh Town Board, which was posted in your July 25, 2022, edition, and encouraged me to share my own perspective.
Ms. Brown criticizes board members for failing to adopt a law requiring that a minimum number of affordable houses be built in every new single family home development, noting in particular that the Town Board recently approved a 113-lot subdivision of million dollar homes on the site of the former Elmwood Country Club on Dobbs Ferry Road — without requiring a single one to be designated as “affordable.”
In March of this year, I appeared at a public hearing on that project and formally called upon town board members to enact such a law for this and all other single family home subdivisions throughout the 19 square miles of unincorporated Greenburgh.
Thirty-year incumbent Town Supervisor Paul Feiner announced he supported the idea, and the town’s planning commissioner said he would have a draft law prepared for the board to review within two months’ time. Then nothing happened.
Three months later, in June, I appeared again before the town board to call for a mandatory affordability set aside for single family homes, and got no public response.
Privately, a town board member told me that the board feared that enacting such a law would discourage developers from building new single family homes and, more importantly, that if it were made applicable to the new Elmwood development, the developer there might sue the town to block any requirement that it build affordable, on the theory that if the town wanted any affordable housing there, it should have allowed the developer to make even more money by building up to 175 million-dollar townhouses instead of only allowing 113 million-dollar single family homes.
That kind of spineless leadership in the teeth of a regional chronic shortage of affordable single family homes perpetuates systematic racism not just in Greenburgh, but everywhere.
Restricting affordability set-asides to new multifamily dwellings does nothing to address the need for affordable single-family homes. In fact, existing set asides which, like in Greenburgh, reward developers who build 100% affordable in exchange for a so-called “density bonus” results in the construction of undersized apartments that are ill-suited for raising children, making the need for affordable single-family homes even greater.
Limiting affordability set asides to multifamily housing also contributes to racially segregated neighborhoods because Greenburgh, like many communities in Westchester, doesn’t allow multifamily housing in its residentially zoned neighborhoods, which are limited to single one-family homes and open to people of color only if they can afford to buy a home there, which many cannot.
Greenburgh needs an affordable housing law which applies an affordability set aside to all forms of housing including new single family home subdivisions. I would like to see a set aside of 20%, but 10% is at least a start and a small price to pay.
And if a developer of luxury million dollar homes does not wish to build any affordable units, he or she should then be permitted to “buy out” of the obligation so that the town can create a fund which it can use to make other single family homes in Greenburgh affordable. And towns like Greenburgh that welcome new billion-dollar businesses like Regeneron that hire new workers who inevitably squeeze the local housing market even tighter should require those businesses to contribute a portion of their revenue to the town’s affordable housing fund.
The demand for single family homes in our market is already so high and shows no signs of abating that the incremental cost of imposing an affordability set aside shouldn’t discourage developers, buyers, or local elected officials.
But sadly, as Ms. Brown reminds us, there is no leadership, vision or guts in Greenburgh’s municipal government to do any of these things, and there hasn’t been for decades. That needs to change.
48 Old Colony Road
Hartsdale, New York 10530
The writer is a lawyer and civic leader in the Edgemont section of unincorporated Greenburgh.