All of a sudden, the town of Harrison is red-hot for rental-housing development, with plans for 606 apartments under consideration by town officials.
AvalonBay is working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build 143 luxury units at the Harrison train station, along with a parking garage and shops. Developer John Verni wants to construct 42 luxury units at a shuttered downtown movie house while Normandy Real Estate Partners wants to put up 421 apartments on Corporate Park Drive.
None, however, include affordable housing in a town that hasn’t built a single affordable unit toward the 756 apartments that the Westchester Housing Opportunity Commission recommended be built by 2015.
The town is among 31 municipalities involved in Westchester’s federal Fair Housing lawsuit settlement. The 2009 consent decree requires Westchester to promote affordable housing and by 2017 get 750 units in the construction pipeline.
The federal housing monitor, James Johnson, has classified Harrison as one of six municipalities with the worst affordable-housing track records. Harrison, like 11 other municipalities , hasn’t adopted a model zoning ordinance that requires 10 percent of the units in multifamily developments be made affordable.
Harrison’s rental-housing boomlet has stirred up housing advocates, who want the MTA to require that 20 percent of units built on MTA land be affordable. The advocates also want Harrison to develop its fair share of affordable housing.
The group includes Jim Killoran, executive director of Westchester’s Habitat for Humanity; Lena Anderson, president of the NAACP White Plains/Greenburgh branch; Irvington developer Chuck Pateman; Mount Vernon United Tenants Executive Director Dennis Hanratty, Westchester Hispanic Coalition Executive Director Graciela Heymann; and Alexander Roberts, executive director of Community Housing Innovations.
“Here’s a perfect opportunity downtown (to build affordable units), and the MTA is enabling Harrison to say ‘No,'” said Roberts.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said whether to adopt the model ordinance is up to Harrison. He said the town had a significant number of affordable units but also said he believed the MTA should have included affordable housing in its plan.
“The Harrison project is a good opportunity,” he said.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said its priority in Harrison was to get a parking garage built by the developer in exchange for the three-acre site. “As far as the housing element, that’s up to the town and developer to determine what’s appropriate,” he said.
During this fall’s gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized Astorino, his Republican opponent, for failing to comply with the fair housing consent decree. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi declined comment on the MTA project.
Harrison Supervisor Ron Belmont told Tax Watch that he’s looking forward to “high-end luxury” apartments that will rise just across the tracks from Town Hall. He said affordable housing wasn’t considered for the site, noting that Harrison’s stock of two-family homes and apartment complexes provides sufficient affordable housing opportunities.
Among the town’s 9,214 housing units, 19 percent are in multifamily buildings. The town’s 1,919 two-family homes comprise an additional 21 percent of the housing stock, Belmont wrote in a Sept. 26 letter to Johnson, the housing monitor. Belmont said the median monthly rent for Harrison apartments was $1,672 — which is affordable when compared to the average mortgage cost of at least $4,000 a month for homeowners.
Belmont said he believed the letter “squelched” many of Johnson’s concerns.
Johnson did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Under the housing settlement, an affordable unit for a family of three, which can earn up to $56,000 a year, would be $1,400, including utilities.
Craig Gurian, executive director of the Anti-Discrimination Center, which won the fair housing lawsuit, said developers will include affordable housing in luxury developments if that’s what a town demands.
“The beauty of mixed-rate housing is that you get a more integrated community, and you get a cross-subsidy from the market-rate units,” he said. “It’s a good way to make sure you aren’t sticking affordable housing where it shouldn’t go.”
AvalonBay Communities, which was selected for the Harrison MTA project, has included affordable housing in other Westchester projects. Housing consultant Richard Hyman said that 10 percent of Avalon’s 444 apartments in the second phase of its Greenburgh project are affordable, as are 17 of 168 units in Ossining.
“Avalon is a very good company and has no reluctance to building affordable units,” said Hyman.
Spokesmen at AvalonBay and Normandy Real Estate Partners declined comment. So did John Verni, the former Westchester Habitat for Humanity chapter president, who wants to build luxury units in the town’s defunct movie theater.