YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The Community Housing Board presented a proposal to the governing body two weeks ago that, if approved, would reinstitute a set-aside requirement on new developments.
Ken Belfer, the board’s chairman, said the town has had an on-again, off-again relationship with affordable housing regulations, with the last law, which was enacted in 2011, being repealed by the prior Town Board following a housing and general economic slump. Under previous policies, he said, some 14 units, mostly single-family homes, were constructed as affordable units in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“The purpose of this is really to provide affordable housing in the town,” Belfer told the Town Board at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 22. Discussions of more recent development proposals, he said, have included concerns “about the need for housing for senior citizens wanting to downsize, about the need for housing for young families starting out in the town [and] for young singles who are graduating from high school or coming back from college and the lack of sufficient housing resources for them.”
The new proposal was largely based on the previous law in addition to a model ordinance developed by the county and would require 10 percent of a housing development with 10 units or more units be set aside for those who meet certain income criteria, Belfer said. He noted that “we’ve had, over the years, different methods of selecting people for affordable housing,” and in 1988, they were selected by lottery but included “certain local preferences, such as for volunteer firefighters.”
It is now a violation of the Fair Housing Law to set preferences “unless you can prove that those preferences will not have a disparate impact based on race or other protected classes,” he said.
“You wouldn’t be able to set a preference for local individuals?” Supervisor Ilan Gilbert asked.
“No, and personally, I wish we could because I think volunteers and emergency services are extremely important to the town of Yorktown, and in the affordable units that we do have, we have some who obtained those units back in the 1990s, but that could be viewed as exclusionary” now, Belfer said.
He said the town also has a non-discrimination policy that would apply to the selection process.
“We did the homework,” Belfer said. “We struggled with trying to incorporate preferences and we went to great lengths to do it,” but the board ultimately decided a lottery section process would be best.
When units become available, he said, they would be “advertised broadly” so fairness would not be questioned.
“We had it. We don’t have it now. Why should we institute it again?” Gilbert asked.
“To provide more affordable housing opportunities in the town as the housing is developed,” Belfer replied.
Should the income of an applicant selected for an affordable unit grow “incrementally from that point,” Councilman Tom Diana asked, “are they removed from that house, or is there a mechanism to remove them?”
“I’d say good for them and upward mobility is what we wish for everyone,” Belfer responded, “but the way the proposed law that we drafted works is for home ownership: As long as you qualify at the time you make the purchase, it’s yours.” However, he said, that home’s resale price would be restricted, so “you don’t just get a windfall by buying something affordable and selling it at market price.” As for rental properties, he said, the draft law would allow a lessees’ income to rise by as much as 40 percent, at which time the owner would have to pay market price or be granted a one-year renewal to relocate.
Councilwoman Alice Roker, while declining to go into detail until a public hearing, indicated her support for a law that “makes it possible that someone whose mother lives here or whose kids live here can continue to live here.”
“Ideally, Alice, I feel the same way,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know if there’d be any objection, or there’d be much less objection, if that were the case.”
Gilbert said the board needs to do “full legal research to determine” application limitations “and if there’s a way around it.”
Still, he said, “With these income standards or the levels we’re talking about, we’re talking about probably, they may not be local, but they still may be a teacher, firefighters, kids who may not be from Yorktown but from Ossining…It’s the same general group of people, it just may not be Yorktown people.”
“I’ve made a pledge to try to help our seniors and try to help our kids and what we do when this lottery opens, there’s a chance not one of those apartments goes to people in our community, and I think by doing that, we take away affordable housing from them,” Councilman Ed Lachterman said. Furthermore, he said, “If we keep pushing forward to lower the price on these units, it’s going to raise the price on other units and it’s going to adversely affect the people we’re trying to help in our town, and that’s our responsibility.”
But housing board member Maura Gregory said those applying for affordable housing units “generally live in the locality…so I don’t quite understand the argument that if we make affordable units available, then somehow we’ve taken affordable units off the market.”
“As housing prices increase, this is a statement by the town that we’re trying to offset that somewhat, to make things still available to people who cannot afford the increased price,” Gregory said.
“The Weyant property is a great example of how we’re trying to do that,” Lachterman said. The property had a single-family home. “Now you have 23 units that are going to be there and they’re going to be a lot more affordable than a house, buying that house on that property. The same thing with what they’re proposing at the Roma Building and over in Jefferson Valley. As you increase the stock, you increase the supply and the demand, per se, will dictate the price.”
“There’s almost nothing available in Yorktown that meets these price ranges—almost, unless it comes through some kind of a program,” Gregory said.
Officials further peppered Belfer with questions about inheritance, subsidies, tax effects, and the number of municipalities in Westchester County without affordable housing provisions (Yorktown is in the minority, they were told).
However, even as the board moved toward a referral from other government agencies and town experts, Lachterman continued to voice his objections.
“I still have the issue with we’re not helping people in our town,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we [the prior Town Board] struck it.”
He said he also has an issue with set-asides, questioning their legitimacy.
“When you put a set-aside on a builder, you’re taxing him,” he said. “Call it what you want, call it what you want; they’re going to consider it a tax.”
While the housing board researches the answers to questions the governing body asked, the town attorney was expected to draft a resolution to refer the proposed law out for action at the Town Board’s meeting Tuesday, Jan. 29.