The project to transform the five-building Winbrook public housing project in White Plains into a modern mixed-use affordable development known as Brookfield Commons moved into its second phase on Nov. 15 with a groundbreaking for a 129-unit building to be known as The Overture.
The first new building on the 9.6-acre site, The Prelude, formally opened in 2016. It contains 104 affordable apartments and the White Plains Education and Training Center. A price tag of $350 million originally was placed on the Brookfield Commons development.
The Overture will replace the building at 135 S. Lexington Ave., which was emptied shortly after The Prelude was completed. Winbrook, which was opened for occupancy in 1950, originally had 450 units of public housing.
The newest building is being co-developed by the White Plains Housing Authority and Trinity Financial Inc., which has offices in New York City and Boston. Trinity Financial said it has done more public housing redevelopment work in the Northeast than any other U.S. developer.
CapitalOne Bank and Chase have provided a letter of credit for construction of the $69 million project. New York state Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) is providing $15.3 million in permanent tax-exempt bonds, federal and state low-income housing tax credits that will generate $26.3 million in equity and an additional $16.6 million subsidy. Additional funding will come from the city of White Plains, Westchester County and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The pattern established for the Brookfield Commons project is to construct a building, move tenants from an existing building into the new one and then replace the old building. The intent was to make it possible for existing tenants to seamlessly move into a new apartment. With demolition and construction times on comparable buildings generally taking 18 months to two years, the timeline for completing the entire project would be eight to 10 years.
At the ceremony, Kenan Bigby, managing director of Trinity Financial, said, “In addition to the housing we are creating here, there are significant infrastructure improvements that will be carried through into the future phases of redevelopment to really turn this into a first-class neighborhood. We’re also creating community facility space where we’ll work with local community partners to provide programming and services not just for the residents of Brookfield Commons but for the community at large.”
The new building will contain 146,115 square feet. The 129 apartments will consist of 40 one-bedroom units, 63 two-bedroom units, 23 three-bedroom units, two four-bedroom units and one superintendent’s unit. There will be a 2,074-square-foot community facility. There will be a total of 77 at-grade parking spaces. Amenities will include a fitness room, children’s playroom and tenant lounge with outdoor terrace.
Mack Carter, executive director of the White Plains Housing Authority, thanked current and past community leaders who pushed hard over the years for improving the city’s housing stock. “Some of them have passed and gone on but … they have been integral in their wanting to have a real, real community of affordable housing here in the city of White Plains.”
White Plains Mayor Tom Roach said that his mother once lived in apartment 8-A in one of the Winbrook buildings.
“She speaks of her time here fondly, but it was something certainly I knew growing up that my mom grew up here in Winbrook and it was something that she was proud of and believe me she was really, really happy when I got elected mayor.”
Roach said that providing safe, affordable housing for the city’s residents is fundamental. “We can’t kid ourselves that we can give everybody a level playing field, but we have to do everything we can as long as we can, in any way we can, to level it as much as we can and what we’re doing here today is part of that.”
Roach said that the housing authority has done a good job of maintaining the existing buildings but, “These are buildings that you can only push so far. The design is not good and they’re at a point in their lifespan that they are not amenable to a lot of the improvements you’d like to make, so that is why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Maria Kolaitis, downstate director of development for HCR, said, “Public housing is among the most valuable affordable assets we have. The goal of this redevelopment is to replace outdated buildings with new energy efficient and modern homes. By working together with local partners, not only can we help turn outdated public housing into state-of-the-art sustainable affordable homes for families, but we’re growing a stronger community here in White Plains.”
She said HCR’s goal is to build and preserve more than 100,000 affordable units. She said that since 2011, her agency has invested about $895 million in the mid-Hudson region to create and preserve affordable housing for about 30,000 residents.
Lynne M. Patton, regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said, “I think public housing started off with good intentions. Ultimately, and maybe accidentally, it ended up siloing poverty, siloing opportunity from far too many people who need it. Projects like The Overture are the future of public housing with mixed-use, mixed-income market rates.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer took note of the fact that there is an enormous amount of wealth and upscale housing in Westchester.
“People who do not need affordable housing, they ask, ‘Why do we put public resources into housing? Can’t you just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and go out there and work hard, work two jobs, and do what’s necessary?’”
Latimer said that such an approach flies in the face of economic reality.
“In Westchester County, the market demand for land is so great that unless you have a significant Wall Street job or you bought into the market in the 50s or early 60s, it is very, very difficult for you to find affordable housing even with a significant paycheck. And, for people who perform productive work but do not get a significant paycheck, what are they to do? The people who are nurses, the people who are short order cooks, the people who serve in maintenance jobs at these fine buildings around. Are they to live 100 miles away where housing is somewhat more affordable?”
Latimer said there is a role for government to ensure an affordable housing stock and it is up to government leaders to have that dialogue with voters.
State Assemblyman David Buchwald noted the location of the housing authority’s site and the development which has been occurring nearby. “There’s nowhere else in the world where you can have public housing three blocks from a Ritz-Carlton, and we should always be striving throughout our society to have that sense of ‘we’re in it together,’” he said.