By Janet Bear
What does a low-income family do when they are told that they must temporarily relocate so that the lead paint in their apartment can be removed? What happens to the family who is displaced by fire or building code violations? Where can they go? At a breakfast presentation of the Local Summit of Larchmont-Mamaroneck, held January 17, four panelists spoke about the issues many residents face finding safe, affordable housing in the Larchmont-Mamaroneck community.
What is “affordable housing”? The Director of Community Services for the Town of Mamaroneck, Anna Danoy, explained that that the federal government assumes that housing expenses (including utilities) should represent 30% of your earned income. Danoy stated that locally, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1690. To meet the 30% recommendation, a family should earn $67,600 to rent that apartment.
Many local families earnings are much lower. Currently 242 local families are receiving assistance from the Housing Choice Program in the form of vouchers that subsidize the difference between the tenants’ income and the apartment’s cost. The average income for these families is $17,800 per year and their average subsidy is about $1,000 per month. This federal voucher program provides opportunities for people to live in safe communities and provides a safety net for landlords. However, as Danoy states, “the needs are far, far greater than what is available”.
Theresa Tilson, Community Service Coordinator for Washingtonville Housing Alliance (WHA) spoke about the supportive services they provide to low and moderate-income residents to aid in finding decent local housing. WHA has invested in low and moderate-income housing over 35 years and currently owns and manages 40 rental units in Mamaroneck. Three quarters of their calls are housing related, how to find safe, decent, affordable housing. Tilson stated that “40 units nowhere near meets the current need. There is a crisis in availability of units.” WHA has funding and is looking to build affordable housing in our community.
Jirandy Martinez, Co-Executive Director and Janet Rolon, Deputy Executive Director of the Community Resource Center (CRC) presented two examples of local immigrant families who lost their housing and turned to CRC for help. Because of extremely limited housing stock, families often must leave the community, disrupting schooling for their children, childcare arrangements and exacerbating transportation needs. Rolon explained that some of their clients are undocumented. They face additional hardships because often landlords require credit reports and employment letters, which undocumented individuals can’t produce.
Rolon also spoke of the overcrowded conditions caused by the lack of safe, affordable housing. Lead paint and mold problems are often not corrected by landlords who abuse undocumented tenants because they are afraid to speak out.
Insufficient supply, high cost and unscrupulous landlords are impediments facing our community. How might we respond? To address these issues, Martinez stated that the CRC is hoping to form a housing coalition with members of the community who are concerned about the housing needs of the low and moderate income members of our community. They would like to reach out to realtors who have data about apartments. Tilson mentioned the need for a marketing effort aimed at landlords to educate them about the federal voucher program and how it can work for them.
Danoy suggested that our communities might address “regulations to allow multi-family housing in some of our larger older homes. “ This could increase the housing stock without changing the footprint of our communities. Catherine Parker, Westchester County Legislator, shared the story of a local Mamaroneck senior resident who was housing two other senior residents in her large home. Maybe other opportunities exist?
It is clear that a housing crisis exists for low to moderate-income residents in Larchmont/Mamaroneck. It’s time that we to work together to develop solutions so that we can continue to be a welcoming community with a diverse population.
This breakfast forum was hosted by the Larchmont/Mamaroneck Local Summit, an informal community council that seeks to make life better for all in the tri-municipal area. Its monthly meetings are held at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck at 7:45 a.m., usually on the third Tuesday of the month.