OSSINING, NY — February 5, 2019 — The Village of Ossining’s two greatest housing challenges are substandard housing and an inadequate supply of affordable housing for the people who need it most. ETPA does not address these concerns, and actually makes these problems worse.
There has been a lot of misleading and misguided messaging surrounding the ETPA conversation. The good news for people concerned about preserving and expanding affordability of housing in Ossining, is that there are effective actions we can take.
Here are three things related to ETPA that you need to know:
- Ossining can and should do a better job at improving housing conditions and affordability for the people who need it most;
- ETPA undermines progress on Ossining’s two greatest housing challenges—substandard housing and not enough affordable housing; and
- ETPA actually makes Ossining LESS affordable for most residents, including most tenants.
Read below for much more detail on each of these, as well as information on two upcoming meetings you are encouraged to attend.
How can Ossining do a better job at improving housing conditions and affordability for the people who need it most? Now is the time for Ossining to follow the policy recommendations of the Village’s 2017 Housing Needs Assessment. ETPA was created 40+ years ago to respond to the housing crisis of the 1970s. The Village’s Housing Needs Assessment provides strategic recommendations to address the housing challenges of our community today. The report directs us to consider ETPA only after first implementing policy recommendations #1-7 including economic development, code enforcement, expanding affordable housing development, and transit options. Unfortunately, in 2018 the majority of the village board at that time chose to put aside progress on these strategies and instead focus on ETPA. The resolution to enable ETPA was passed in September, but the implementation is scarcely underway as the majority of landlords aren’t yet even registered with the NYS department that manages the program.
How does ETPA undermine progress on our two greatest housing challenges—substandard housing and not enough affordable housing? The state regulations inherent in ETPA prevent investment in existing substandard buildings. The margins for the return on investment in ventures like these are tight, given the high price of housing and the costs associated with bringing these buildings up to code. Having the ability to control the rents that will be charged, even for apartments intended to be rented affordably, is essential for minimizing the financial risk. The intention of ETPA is not to prevent this kind of investment from happening. Unfortunately, the reality is that it does. Although ETPA allows for the exemption of buildings that undergo substantive rehabilitation, they can only be considered for an exemption from rent regulations after the project is completed. Lending agencies who finance the project cannot take that risk. Similarly, existing owners who want to improve their buildings are not guaranteed that they will be able to cover the costs of such improvements (i.e. new, energy efficient HVAC systems).
How does ETPA make Ossining less affordable for most residents, including most tenants? The intentions of ETPA are excellent—protect tenants and keep Ossining affordable. The reality is that ETPA would make our community less affordable for most residents, including most tenants. Though Ossining is touted by Westchester magazine as one of the ten most affordable communities in the county, our effective tax rate is one of the highest. Cultural and economic diversity is core to the village’s identity, and one of the reasons people choose to move here and stay here. Working to hold the line on property taxes is a critical component for working to keep Ossining affordable. Over time ETPA lowers taxes for the buildings in that program, resulting in the tax burden being shifted to the rest of the tax payers, including landlords for most Ossining tenants.
Housing policy is incredibly complex, and we look to higher levels of government to do their part to improve programs that support local efforts to keep our community affordable. Westchester County legislators have been trying for years to get a county-wide housing needs assessment underway. That is now happening. In fact, everyone is invited to attend a public forum hosted by the County on February 11 from 6-8PM at Ossining’s Community Center. I look forward to learning the recommendations of the County’s study due out later this year. With the change in control of the NYS senate, it’s possible there may be improvements to the ETPA program. The ETPA legislation has seen little evolution in over 40 years. If the program substantially improves, it may be worth reconsidering it for Ossining at that time.
The village is moving forward with the recommendations of the Housing Needs Assessment. One area where progress was made last year was implementing a stronger and more active Landlord Tenant Relations Council (LTRC)—an element of policy recommendation #2. This council is made up of local tenants, landlords, and residents and provides education and mediation services that can prevent cases from ever going to court. If you know someone in need of assistance related to any rental property, please encourage them to seek the help of the LTRC. The LTRC Intake Form can be found by clicking here, and on the village website.
One of the greatest downsides to ETPA is that it is tied to the size and age of a building, not the need of a tenant. Ossining has a wide range of housing options, including a lot of rental properties and an older housing stock. Many of our residents with the greatest need for safe affordable housing are living in non-ETPA eligible multi-family homes that are substandard and overcrowded. Improving these conditions is addressed partly by improved code enforcement, and partly by people and agencies willing to invest in Ossining.
If you care about improving housing conditions and affordability in Ossining and have not yet read the Housing Needs Assessment available on the village website, I encourage you to. This study was advocated for by ETPA proponents. Unfortunately, when the study was complete and the recommendations didn’t fit their narrative, they cast the findings aside. If you want to be part of the solution, join us at an information session on February 28, at 7pm at the Ossining Public Library to learn about the village’s update to our Comprehensive Plan and consider applying to serve on the Comprehensive Plan Committee. Zoning laws are derived from the Comprehensive Plan, and revising these codes is policy recommendation #6 of the Housing Needs Assessment.
Though much of the rhetoric on the topic of ETPA has been inflammatory and divisive, the fact that the community is engaging in a conversation about housing affordability is helpful in clarifying our shared priorities. I am proud to serve a village where residents care deeply about our neighbors and value preserving economic diversity through progressive housing initiatives. ETPA is not the solution, in fact, it undermines progress on our greatest housing challenges. But there are actions we can take. Ossining is moving forward with a holistic approach recommended by the Housing Needs Assessment.
Citizen Mama Victoria Gearity is Mayor of Ossining.