They say that every challenge, however great, contains a seed of opportunity. The year that was 2020 put that hypothesis to the test, but it continued to hold true. All across Westchester County, businesses had to quite literally adapt or disappear. Those who were able to find those seeds of opportunity amid the stacks of dangers, challenges, illness, fears, frustrations, and vulnerabilities were often the ones who weren’t afraid to toss out their usual playbook, face challenges head on, and find the courage and the leadership to change.
Throughout the year, I kept thinking about a similar moment of transition and peril that happened not too long ago – the zenith of the Great Recession, while the country was still actively embroiled in two wars and facing the prospects of a long, painful recovery at best and another Depression at worst. On the day before the presidential inauguration, Bishop T.D. Jakes gave a sermon on what was demanded of leadership in that time of crisis, including this moral:
“You cannot change what you will not confront.”
In Westchester County, we have been staring at a looming housing crisis, especially for working families, millennials, senior citizens who wish to gracefully age in place, and people with disabilities. But the scope of it truly affects all of us, serving as a drag on our local economy, complicating our efforts to sustain labor pipelines of our youth into the construction industry, denying our property tax-strained municipalities new revenue, and complicating our ability to make progress on critical issues like racial justice and climate resilience. The Westchester County Housing Needs Assessment found that we need 11,703 new housing units just to meet present demand – and that was before COVID-19 warped our real estate market and drove average home prices even higher.
The Building & Realty Institute is a trade association that represents the complete spectrum of real estate in Westchester, from the homebuilders, developers and remodelers who build and upgrade our homes, to the property owners, managers, and volunteer co-op and condo boards who own and operate our existing multifamily dwellings. Housing is the connective tissue that brings our member businesses together. As such, our members have had a panoramic view of what our housing crunch has on our economy, our affordability, and our policy debates at large.
We also see time and again that our reluctance to have the hard conversations about what it will really take for our communities to say yes to the housing we need causes us to have even harder conversations about our existing housing, bringing down new regulations, new financial pressure, and new intensity to the fights over the housing we already have rather than building the housing we need.
But we can do better. With so many mutually reinforcing problems intersecting with the central issue of producing the housing we need, we can look ourselves squarely in the mirror and realize that the “way things have always been done” will yield the same disappointing results that will only hold us back.
In that same sermon, Bishop Jakes made it clear that the willingness to step up and be a leader in challenging times is difficult but ultimately rewarding. “Everywhere you turn, there will be a critic waiting to attack every decision you make,” he said. “But you cannot enjoy the light without enduring the heat.”
We look forward to having those conversations and finding our way together to building the future of housing in Westchester.
CEO and Executive Vice President