Home Government Kimball looks at the power of choice in power and in housing

Kimball looks at the power of choice in power and in housing

When the nonprofit Groundwork Hudson Valley honors Wilson Kimball at its “Here Comes the Sun” annual gala on Oct. 14, celebrating the proliferation of solar electricity projects in Yonkers, it will be shining a spotlight not only on her but also on the Municipal Housing Authority for the City of Yonkers (MHACY) for which she serves as president and CEO.

MHACY is the second-largest housing authority in New York state.

In addition to Kimball, Nina Orville, executive director of Sustainable Westchester, and Gregg Wasser of G&S Investors and G&S Solar are to be honored for their contributions to bringing increased solar generating activity to the city. U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-16th) is honorary chair of the event, which is hosted by the Robert Martin Co.

Wilson Kimball at the housing authority's Cottage Gardens
Wilson Kimball at the housing authority’s Cottage Gardens

Kimball told the Business Journal that she began working with Groundwork on environmental issues while she was serving as planning commissioner in Yonkers, and that she recently tapped into their expertise to help explore options for dealing with flooding at housing authority properties that resulted from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

“What we’ve found is that these hundred-year events are now 10-year events,” Kimball said. “Normally it’s about water-rise because rivers flood. Now we’re having rain events.” She said a housing authority renovation project on Western Avenue suffered a setback when a boiler room and community room were flooded.

Kimball said that the housing authority is looking for ways to make its properties more environmentally friendly and allow its residents to be more in touch with nature.

MHACY was quick to enroll in a Community Solar initiative launched by the city along with Sustain Westchester and Groundwork Hudson Valley to bring five solar installations to buildings owned by the Robert Martin Company in the Executive Boulevard area of the city.

Yonkers residents enrolling in Community Solar are eligible to receive up to 10% off their monthly electric bills while supporting the use of clean energy.

Kimball pointed out that about 200 of MHACY’s tenants who pay their own electric bills will see solar savings, while those tenants whose electricity costs are included in their rent will benefit indirectly.

She further indicated that the 21st century calls for new thinking on the part of housing authorities. “Let’s think outside the box,” Kimball said. “We’re really having to rethink the structure of the housing.”’

She said that many people don’t understand the lessons of the past when it comes to the role of a housing authority.

“In the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, when they did high-rise public housing, what you got was a lot of individuals of the same economic background sort of warehoused in these tall towers,” Kimball said. “I don’t think any of us thinks that’s ideal anymore. I think we all would prefer a mixed-income community.”

Kimball noted that today, developers in Yonkers are required to include 10% affordable housing units in their market-rate projects.

“That allows us to really give people an opportunity to live with others who are not from the same socioeconomic background necessarily. It’s a real eye-opening experience and it’s also a very good motivational experience and I think it’s a better way of creating communities,” Kimball said.

She also pointed out that the federal Section 8 voucher program, which allows low- and moderate-income families to pay no more than approximately 40% of their monthly income toward rent, has won acceptance from many Yonkers landlords who must comply with federal requirements — such as annual property inspections and meeting minimum standards set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We have been actively working on our Section 8 vouchers and we’re talking to the feds about getting more,” Kimball said. “President Biden’s infrastructure bill has a ton of money for Section 8 vouchers. We’re very supportive of that bill. We want to see more Section 8 vouchers in the marketplace so that we can help people get placed in those kinds of developments.”

Kimball said that the MHACY has more than 1,900 units that it owns and manages and provides more than 4,000 Section 8 vouchers and plans a three-pronged approach to carry it forward into the future.

“We want to work with the market-rate developers to integrate our tenants into their structure. We want to build our own new housing that is a cut above what it used to be,” Kimball said. “We want to get more Section 8 vouchers into the smaller landlords, not just big ones like RXR or Ginsburg, but into the smaller landlords’ hands so they have a guaranteed rent and our tenants can have a choice: they can live in a high-rise or they can live in a two- or three-family. Ultimately, a Section 8 voucher is about choice and we want to promote that.”

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