A Housing Needs Assessment report released by Westchester County Executive George Latimer finds that the county needs to add 11,703 affordable units to its housing stock in order to meet its need for 82,451 affordable units.
The report counts 345,885 housing units in the county, with 81% of them built before 1979.
In addition to stressing the need for new construction, the study suggests the adaptive reuse of underutilized land and buildings can help increase the inventory of lower-cost homes in areas with high land costs and limited development opportunities. “Buildings often outlive their original purposes,” the report stated. “Adaptive reuse reinvents old structure for new purposes to prolong the cradle-to-grave period of a building.”
The report cited as an example the former Public School 6 in Yonkers where the Municipal Housing Authority collaborated with Community Builders on a $63 million project to turn the old school into 120 units of housing. The assessment said the county itself should inventory its land and buildings with an eye to whether any properties would be useful for repurposing. It also called for creating public-private partnerships to undertake the necessary groundwork for quickly assessing, securing and advancing site development.
The report stated that commercial office parks, which some owners may find are becoming more difficult to keep fully leased, offer redevelopment opportunities.
“As technology advanced, the amount of office space required by tenants decreased and simultaneously telecommuting became more of a business norm,” the report stated. “As a result – many parks became obsolete and eventually became vacant. These vacant and abandoned office parks are ripe for adaptive reuse into affordable housing.”
That’s not necessarily a new idea. In 2008, the county’s Department of Planning conducted a study about turning office parks into housing and reissued it in 2010.
The assessment found that 62% of the housing units in the county are owned, while 38% are rental units. The number of owned units in Westchester is slightly lower than the 63% national average. It found that 41.1% of the households in the county are paying more than 50% of their incomes toward housing costs.
Latimer said, “Affordable housing is a major contributing factor to a balanced and well-functioning county and, in turn, to its communities and neighborhoods.” He said that the county prepared the housing needs assessment to “establish a data-based foundation for the creation and preservation of affordable housing in Westchester County.” The assessment doesn’t seek to establish affordable housing quotas for individual municipalities.
William V. Cuddy Jr., a member of the Westchester County Association’s executive board and executive vice president of the real estate firm CBRE, said, “Westchester’s long- and short-term economic viability is predicated upon our housing inventory meeting the demands of our workforce.”
He said that the county’s report is a call to action. “If we don’t address the miscarriage of our policies and perspectives, we fail our families and workers. The problem may be intractable, but it isn’t insurmountable.”
Relying on population statistics from 2000 through 2017, the assessment found that the county had a slight decline in the under-19 age demographic and an 18.9% decline in those 30 to 44 years of age. It said that, in terms of economic development, the 30-to-44 group is considered to be the prime labor force. The study also cited a Cornell University projection that the 30-to-44 population will increase 7.5% by 2025. “This is important to note as the age cohort of 30 to 44 has typically included first-time homebuyers,” the assessment said.
Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester, said, “As we look to recruit and retain Westchester’s future workforce, we need all levels of government to focus on how we can create future workforce housing so that employees can not only work in Westchester but also can live here and raise their families.”
The assessment found that the over-85 group, often identified as frail elderly, jumped by more than 44% in Westchester since 2000, the 65-to-74 population went up 26.7% and the 75 and over demographic went up by 52.3%.
The report noted, “This is critical for future housing plans, especially when coupled with the fact that over 30% of the homes throughout Westchester County were built before 1940. The housing stock will likely need major repairs and system replacements in addition to physical modifications to mitigate accessibility challenges, as people are aging in place. Furthermore, seniors who are living on a fixed income and unable to maintain their home may be in need of affordable rental housing and possibly housing with supportive services or assisted living.”