Affordable Housing Advocates Address Local Summit
Rosemarie Noonan (left) and Melissa Kaplan-Macey
By Nina Recio
At its public breakfast forum on May 10 conducted via Zoom, the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit invited two experts in affordable housing to describe the tools currently available to communities to help address affordable housing needs. Rosemarie Noonan, Executive Director of the Housing Action Council (HAC) in Tarrytown and Melissa Kaplan-Macey, Vice President, State Programs and Connecticut Regional Planning Association (RPA), shared their thoughts on how to make affordable housing happen.
Ms. Noonan has served as Director of the HAC since 1974. The Council provides expertise and staffing, particularly to non-profits, to develop housing. The HAC also counsels tenants and potential homeowners. Ms. Noonan herself fostered the creation of the Washingtonville Housing Alliance and has spent her career as an active advocate for affordable housing in Westchester County.
Ms. Noonan began her presentation by conceding that “there are no easy fixes” to the affordable housing problem confronting the community and she finds it necessary to “keep plugging along, one conversation at a time, one development at a time” to make progress.
Acknowledging that we are gradually losing “public housing,” Ms. Noonan explained that affordable housing is “all about financial feasibility” and said that there are other means besides public housing to develop affordable units in the current environment. In addition to non-profit development, these options include for-profit development, for-profit/non-profit collaboration and municipality-initiated development.
For-profit developers play an important role as they have access to capital. Non-profit developers on the other hand can contribute sales and mortgage tax benefits. Thus, collaborations between these two types of developers can be very successful.
Financial feasibility for any project may be the most critical aspect. Ms. Noonan described the need to “stack capital” for a given housing project, meaning that capital from private donors may be “stacked” upon capital from the County and State, as recently occurred in a development in Greenburgh.
Also vitally important is the support of local groups and organizations. Ms. Kaplan- Macey, a resident of the Larchmont/Mamaroneck community, stated that today in our area more than a third of people are spending more than they can afford on housing. One of the biggest obstacles to affordable housing is community opposition. Ms. Kaplan-Macey spoke of the need to create a community environment that is accepting of proposed affordable housing sites. Local civic and non-profit organizations, she noted, can help create the appropriate environment. She further explained that housing needs and availability should be considered in the broader scope of community needs, along with transportation, energy and environment. In her view, these components of community living are interrelated and should not be examined in silos.
Local municipal government has its role to play and tools available to it. Through its land-use regulations, especially zoning, local governments can promote affordable housing. According to Ms. Noonan, there have been recent municipality-initiated housing developments in Peekskill, Ossining, Croton-on-Hudson and Irvington. In one instance, a municipality made a surplus DPW site available for affordable housing.
Ms. Kaplan-Macey discussed the various zoning mechanisms that can be utilized by a municipality to create affordable housing, even in a densely developed location such as Larchmont/Mamaroneck. One of the goals where there is limited available land, she indicated, is to create more room within existing structures. In communities with many single-family residences on large lots, the zoning codes can be revised to permit the conversion of larger single-family residences to multi-family units. Another option suggested by Ms. Kaplan-Macey is to permit “in-law apartments” or “granny flats”. She also suggested that municipalities could enable Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and to explore the reimagining of strip commercial shopping areas. Municipalities should also consider establishing Transit Oriented Developments (TODs) utilizing the land around the area’s established rail lines to create homes able to take advantage of the proximity to public transit.
Based upon the speakers’ presentations, it became clear that the solution to creating more affordable housing in a community requires direct and active input, both financial and otherwise, from many different stakeholders.
The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit is an informal community council that seeks to make a better life for the community by keeping it informed of major issues of concern. The next Zoom program, co-hosted by LMC Media, will be Tuesday, June 14 at 8:00 a.m. and will hear from OCRA students about their efforts supporting legislation providing a Right-to-Counsel in eviction proceedings.