White Plains, NY – Over 100 low-wage workers from throughout Westchester County joined with supporters Friday to stage a demonstration in the fight for County Executive Rob Astorino to release $100,000 in funding for an affordable housing needs assessment. The effort, organized by members of Community Voices Heard Power, Interfaith Clergy for Social Action, WESPAC, Working Families Party and the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition, comes after a year of advocacy to secure this funding in the 2016 Westchester County Budget.
Community Voices Heard leaders have exchanged over 20 emails with the County Executive’s office since January to try to move the process forward. “The County Executive’s office has not kept to the scheduled dates for meetings,” says Alexandria Richardson, Yonkers resident, “It angers me that Rob Astorino refuses to see the faces of Westchester. Instead he sees us as unworthy of living and building our families where we work.” Demonstrators shut down down the Martine Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard intersection for less than half an hour Friday morning and occupied Rob Astorino’s office after a last-minutes cancellation to pressure him to take action and release the funding.
“He’s dividing us,” said Sojourner Salinas, a 42-year-old White Plains resident and member of Community Voices Heard, the advocacy group that organized the rally. “There are two counties, we should be one county.”
The last Affordable Housing Needs Assessment for Westchester County was completed in 2004 by Rutgers University based on the year 2000 Census. In order to obtain up-to-date data on affordable housing need, members of Community Voices Heard Power partnered with Legislator Catherine Borgia and successfully won $100,000 in the 2016 Westchester County Budget to fund a new study. The County Executive’s administration has now been blocking efforts to implement the study, claiming the funds “aren’t permissible” since they were placed in the Capital Budget.
“It has been over 15 years since the last needs assessment,” said Nicola Kenny, Community Voices Heard Power Member and homeless Ossining resident, “Since then, we have seen the foreclosure crisis and skyrocketing rents in Westchester County. I know there is a need because I feel that need everyday. We need the County Executive to stop turning a blind eye to the housing crisis and release the funds for the study so we can get to work addressing the true need for affordable and low-income housing in our communities.”
The group included nine faith leaders who lifted up the moral imperative for Rob Astorino to act in response his low-wage constituents. “Mr. Rob Astorino is morally responsible to every citizen of Westchester County to ensure clean, safe, adequate and affordable housing to all people of every race regardless of wealth and financial status,” said Rev. Troy DeCohen of the Interfaith Clergy for Social Action, “Housing is a god given and human right that no one should deny. It is the moral obligation of every leaders and person of good conscious to work toward the promise that we all are created equal.”