Croton Housing Network, Inc.

Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

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Croton Housing Network -
What's Our Story?

Croton Housing Network Timeline:
Mid 1980s -- Croton Housing Task Force created by Mayor Roland Bogardus
1990 -- Croton Housing Network incorporates and receives not-for-profit status
1991 -- Bank Street townhouses (4)
1995 -- Mt. Airy Woods apartments (12)
1999 -- West Wind homes (2)
2001 -- Brook Street home with apartment (2)
2003 -- Discovery Cove senior apartments (4)
2007 -- Symphony Knoll senior apartments (11)
2014 -- Symphony Knoll (12th apartment)

Created by then mayor Roland Bogardus (a Republican) in response to the county government call for action, the Task Force reached out to the houses of worship and started to study the issue. It did a survey, learned from consultants and developed its own ideas. Rather than end, it morphed into a not-for-profit organization prepared to act as a developer in partnership with the Village. The Village agreed to review all property it owned and looked for a suitable site for development. The first project was born.

"Affordable housing" is a term used for many different purposes and with many connotations. But, when it comes to getting funding from government programs, it has clear definitions. Home ownership opportunities can be subsidized when offered to those whose income is no more than 80 percent of the County median. Subsidies for rental housing target those at less than 60 percent of the County median, with additional funds available when the target is for no more than 50 percent. In Westchester in 2003, these numbers, based on a median of about $91,000 for a family of four, are about $51,000 for one person or $73,000 for four at the 80 percent level, and about $32,000 for one person or $45,700 for a family of four at the 50 percent level. By 2015, median income for a family of four rose to $105,700, and the 80 percent mark was $84,550 for a family of four and $59,200 for one. At 50 percent these numbers are $52,850 for a family of four and $37,000 for one.

I'll tell you quickly about the projects we've completed and what made them possible. There is much information in these stories. First, let me state that much of our success has been due to (1) a Village government with the political and practical commitment to support our efforts, and (2) the technical support of our primary consultants, The Housing Action Council, a not-for-profit organization based in Tarrytown, run by Rose Noonan and Alan Gordon about whom I cannot say enough. It is also important that in our first 10 years, Theo Dyer Bennett was our president and, with Herb Perry, vice-president, committed endless hours to each project. Theo and Herb were a determined force and with the guidance of the Housing Action Council they were able to accomplish a lot. All the members of our Board are important to our success, but there is no denying that the brunt of the work falls to the President.

The first project was four townhouses built in 1991 on Village owned land on Bank Street in Croton. We thought home-ownership was important, and built three-bedroom townhouses that sold for $76,000 to families making no more than $45,000 per year. A grant of $100,000 from the NYS Affordable Housing Corporation wrote down the cost of the homes to allow the reduced sale price. Other grants helped pay for infrastructure costs.

The second project grew out of the Village negotiations with the large local developer of River Landing. The initial proposal for this project triggered a Village-wide moratorium in reaction to the potential for over-building. In the settlement that allowed building approximately 30 new homes, the developers gave 8.5 acres to CHN. Today, 12 rental units in three buildings stand on the hillside of lower Mt. Airy--our response to our growing realization that rentals were desperately needed. There are six one-bedroom apartments, three two-bedrooms and three three-bedrooms. We thought this might be the only other thing we would ever build and we wanted to address EVERY need!

It was a huge, expensive and difficult project. The hillside was loaded with rock, the builder went through a divorce and bankruptcy during the project and still, somehow, in 1995 the tenants moved in. County Housing Infrastructure Funds paid for the roadway, as well as sewer and water connections; Federal HOME program grants provided underwriting for each unit and extra money for those targeted to the lowest income. A County Development Block Grant (CDBG) also supported this project. Several of the intial tenants received Section 8 housing certificates to pay a portion of their rent, limiting the tenant's share of the rent to 30 percent of their income.

The approach of requiring an affordable housing component for any local development was an idea the Village has continued. Just as Mt. Airy Woods was completed, when the WestWind development was under consideration at the northern end of the Village, the Planning Board required that one lot be donated to the CHN. We converted that lot into two, building homes that were sold to local first-time homebuyers at $135,000--about the actual cost of building.

Our next project developed because the Village was in a bind over a dilapidated house on Brook Street. By now, the Village really saw CHN as a resource. In 1997, we helped acquire County funds for demolition and we designed a two-family house that would afford home-ownership with a three-bedroom unit for the homeowner and an income-producing one-bedroom rental unit. The homeowner had to meet the 80 percent income guideline and the tenant the 60 percent limit.

The next project we completed also grew from the Village Planning Board's commitment to secure affordable housing in return for any new development. The final phase of Half Moon Bay, called Discovery Cove, was required to negotiate with CHN. It was agreed that four one-bedroom units would be provided, but the terms were very loose. Ownership of the development changed hands more than once before building began, and when we negotiated with the actual builders in 2002 we had very specific goals in mind. We wanted to target seniors, and we wanted to keep the rents so low that Section 8 certificates wouldn't be necessary to allow affordability. We wanted the rent to be $500 month. With that goal, we refused to pay the price for the units that the builder first suggested, and held out until they met our number, which was based on the rent we wanted. These units are small (590 sq ft) but they get great light, are well built, and are priced right.

Our most recent project is Symphony Knoll, built to add 11 one-bedroom rentals for seniors and provide office space for Croton Housing. When our neighboring landowner died with no heirs and the land was on the market, we approached the County to see if their New Homes Land Acquisition funds could help us. With County encouragement, the Village stepped in to buy the property and and the slow process to secure funds began. We used a new type of funding--Low Income Housing Tax Credits--for the first time, along with funds from the federal HOME program and other sources. It wasn't easy--we got all the various ducks in a row aboout 24 hours before a final deadline of December 31st, 2007. Construction of Symphony Knoll brought some of the same challenges as those at Mount Airy Woods--endless rocks and ledges and water intrusion, plus a host of new ones. The recession that hit in 2008 put terrible credit stress both on our builder and on every other organization involved, and there were more than the usual number of construction surprises. But against all odds the first tenants moved in December 1, 2009. And in 2014 we moved our operations to the basement and converted the "office" to a 12th apartment.

The role of the Village in supporting these projects--which have created seven houses and 29 rental units so far--must be evident. Also critical are the funding sources: County Development Block Grants, Federal HOME program funds, NYS funding sources, tax credits and tax breaks--anything that writes down the cost of land and building and operating costs so that lower prices can be charged. The general success of Mt. Airy Woods has served us well, so that we have had the money to re-invest in those units and to support our initial expenses in starting later projects. Being able to lend money to ourselves in this way has reduced our need to go after additional grants for start-up costs. Luckily, there are organizations that offer these funds, which were invaluable to us in our first projects.

If it sounds easy--it isn't.

It is hard to quantify the burden of responding to frequent misrepresentations by those in the community who are not pleased with what we do. There is a core group that argues, among other things, that we should help only Croton residents. In fact, CHN has given priority to Croton residents in every project where the law allowed and will continue to do so. However, we are legally required to open occupancy to all qualified persons, and our rental units do include some tenants who were not living here previously. Of course, they live here now--just when do you become local?

Then there is the issue that rental units require ongoing management. We didn't really appreciate the extent of it when we built Mt. Airy Woods (we were just excited to be creating units!). We built a long-term relationship with Ossining's Interfaith Council for Action (IFCA), which first branched out to manage units other than their own with this project. Just a couple of years ago we acknowledged the need to provide greater social support services to our tenants and added these services through IFCA. This reflects one significant aspect of our maturation as an organization. With nearly 30 rental units, there is much ongoing operational responsibility.

But perhaps the biggest problem is that it is hardest for us to help the group of largest need. Our units are too expensive. There are too many applicants who make too little to afford the units at Mt. Airy Woods--or even Discovery Cove--unless they have a Section 8 certificate. And new Section 8 certificates are almost impossible to obtain. Funding targets under 50 percent of median, but many people who apply are making less than 30 percent. And yet, even with no profit and no development fee, we find it nearly impossible to acquire land and build and operate units that these folks can afford. Using the current standard that housing should not exceed 30 percent of income, this requires rents of less than $555 a month for one-bedroom units and $795 for two- and three-bedroom units. These numbers can only be achieved by building in greater density or with greater subsidy.

Greater density is difficult to achieve, given that all land use decisions are controlled at the local level, and localities in Westchester, especially Northern Westchester, are struggling to maintain their semi-rural nature and to avoid clogged roads and over-crowded schools. The local nay-sayers are a tough bunch and many communities have and will allow such complaints to stop them. Combined with the high cost of land in the area and the high cost of construction, the job is a tough one.

Westchester County received a report in 2004 from the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University that concluded that 10,000 units of housing would be needed in less than 10 years, before 2015, for those under 80 percent of median income--a staggering number, addressable only with significant government creativity and commitment.

What can people do to help? Well, an obvious answer is to elect those who will push the government in the right direction. Much more could be done in the Town of Cortlandt if the political will could be established, perhaps by a creating a local group like the Croton Housing Network. Habitat for Humanity follows a very different model to ours, and they are active here and always in need of volunteers.

Finally, each individual can help enormously just by understanding the need, recognizing our community responsibility to those less fortunate than some of us are, and supporting our efforts in public meetings and private conversations.

Comments by CHN President, Nancy Shatzkin, in 2004, updated to add current numbers in 2015