Housing Land Trust

This is from Clifford Schneider of the St. Paul’s CDC in Paterson. It is an excellent example of how affordable housing in a universal problem. In addition, the indication in the editorial that “Housing is Job No. 1” is a reminder of the work that lies ahead of us.

Housing Land Trust
(Original Publication: June 12, 2007)

Any smart gambler would have taken odds on this one. Opposition to affordable housing is so very often predictable and widespread that it was a safe to bet that Westchester County’s newest affordable-housing proposal would be met with almost instant criticism, notwithstanding our collective lip service to creating, making or otherwise developing more of it.

That’s exactly what happened.

Almost as soon as the first project cobbled together under the umbrella of the new Westchester Housing Land Trust was introduced to the county Board of Legislators last week, it was criticized.

Neighbors objected to the project itself – 25 new rental apartments on Clinton Place in downtown New Rochelle – saying it would change the character of their neighborhood. One hundred people signed a petition against it; if city dwellers won’t support rental housing, who will? The neighbors said they preferred to see owner-occupied housing, such as co-ops or condos or housing for senior citizens.

Some county legislators objected to the Spano administration’s proposal, too, saying that the organizational structure of the new Housing Land Trust was too vaguely defined to entrust it with public money.

“The housing is a great idea,” William Ryan, chairman of the county Board of Legislators told the Editorial Board. “But there is no way the legislature is going to take $1.9 million of taxpayer money and convey it to an entity that they know nothing about.”

Housing is Job No. 1
But the county – which is starving for housing that non-millionaires can afford – needs to make this project happen. In April, the trust was incorporated as a not-for-profit venture that will make land available to developers who are willing to build housing that people of low and moderate incomes can afford. But unlike earlier programs where the affordability was guaranteed for only a limited amount of time before reverting to market-rate, homes built through the Housing Land Trust would be required to remain affordable forever.

Last week, county board members questioned who would serve on the housing trust’s board and what its by-laws would contain, Ryan said. Then they decided to wait before putting any Housing Land Trust projects in motion. “Of course, I’m disappointed,” Norma Drummond, the county’s Deputy Planning Commissioner, said.

Ryan said that the legislature may meet in special session this week and vote to borrow the $1.9 million for Clinton Place, and for a smaller senior citizen project in Pound Ridge, through an existing county program, the New Homes Land Acquisition Fund. Later, when the technicalities are resolved, they can transfer both properties into the Housing Land Trust, he said.

That’s a good temporary fix – one that addresses the bureaucratic concerns as well as the substantive matter – the need for affordable housing. Westchester cannot afford to lose this bet.

A Journal News editorial