In My Backyard

Westchester County is blessed with great schools, transportation, business opportunities, and family amenities. But where is anyone to live?

The low and moderate-income workforce that fuels Westchester’s economy—from the busboys clearing tables all the way to the teachers charged with educating our children—often live in counties to our north, New Jersey, Connecticut, and elsewhere and deal with crushing commutes just to afford a place to call home.

Too many Westchester communities only allow single family homes—typically with soaring price tags and exorbitant property tax bills. Communities that will allow some multi-family development want to target either millennials or downsizing retirees to avoid burdening school districts. But millennials and retirees want to live in the City. Westchester is, by and large, for families.

Ask your neighbors when they moved to Westchester—it was probably when they had a kid and wanted a backyard. Or when they had their second kid, and the walls were closing in on their one-bedroom apartments on the Upper West Side. They came for the schools and the quality of life. Now their adult children who are starting families of their own can’t afford to do the same.

Housing is the missing link for working professionals who want to raise their families near where they work. So just imagine how critical the housing gap is for our neighbors who are really struggling. Even with minimum wage at $15/hour, which equates to $31,200 on a full-time basis, living in our community is impossible. Those who spend thirty percent  or more of their income on housing are classified as “rent burdened.” Thirty percent of minimum wage is $780/month. Good luck.

If you double the minimum wage (either through two incomes in the household or by earning $30/hour)  and earn $62,400/year, $1,560 is the rent-burdened threshold. So, if the minimum wage earners who our economy relies on are willing and able to work two full-time jobs, likely traveling to them on long public bus rides, they can almost reach the lowest end of Westchester’s rental market. This equation is broken. In my years at Westhab, I’ve met so many people who are working two and even three jobs and still can’t afford a decent place to call home.

We need to shift the conversation on affordable housing. People having a place to call home isn’t a partisan issue. It isn’t about losing the character of our neighborhoods or giving something up. Affordable housing means a bustling Main Street, bumping into police officers and teachers in the supermarket, and diversity in our communities. Affordable housing creates neighborhoods and a sense of community.

Westchester should become the place of IMBY—In My Back Yard—and leave off the N as the utter nonsense that it is.

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Posted in Rich's Desk, Westhab Stories and tagged .