Sunday, October 15, 2006

Should government provide neighborhoods with benefits?

Question: Westchester has a homeless problem. Our county also has a shortage of low income housing. In the past, whenever a proposed low income housing complex was suggested near a middle income or wealthy neighborhood there was a tremendous amount of local opposition. Usually, the opposition has killed the housing proposal. That's why we continue to face a severe low income housing shortage in Westchester. Everyone wants housing built --in someone elses neighborhood. There is some talk that a court of law or the state government may eventually require localities around the state to do their fair share --to build a certain amount of low income housing in their community.
To ease the local community opposition to the proposed housing do you think that government should offer the neighborhood a dividend/benefit? In Greenburgh this was done with the WESTHELP partnership in 2004. The neighborhood (Mayfair Knollwood civic association) voted 90-10 to accept a 108 unit homeless shelter. In return -- WESTHELP, the county of Westchester, the Town of Greenburgh promised to give the Valhalla School district $650,000 a year for enhanced school programs. The neighborhood was happy. The school district was happy--because they are getting additional programs for the school. WESTHELP was happy because they were able to continue serving the homeless. The county was happy. Because, they did not have to close down a homeless shelter and place the homeless elsewhere. The town was happy because everyone else was happy.
Now---some members of the Town Board who voted for the agreement in 2004 are threatening to break the promise they previously made to the community to provide enhanced funds to the school district


Greenburgh Taxpayer said...


The government, the Town in this question, should only provide any benefits in accordance with state law. No matter how well deserved any neighborhood or school is, it must be within the constraints of NY law. Litigation is time consuming and expensive. It is best to avoid in the first place.

Many people in Greenburgh were unaware until recently that the state provides generous funding for school district students from homeless facilities. This was not the case when the original Westhelp facility in Valhalla was being negotatioed. It is now. so the arguement has had to focus on "social dividend" Since when does a town to pay a dividend for some residents and not others.

Frankly, had Valhalla not spent the money for things like cruises, Yale programs for the already priviledged, and money to go to private foundations (WHICH THEY STILL HAVE NOT CUT) -- the opposition would not be as overwhelming.

Anonymous said...

You are assuming that the contract that Supervisor Feiner, councilman Bass, Councilwomen Juettner and Barnes voted for in 2004 is illegal. Feiner and the members of the Town Board hired Paul Bergins, an experienced lawyer, to negotiate the terms of the lease with county lawyers, with WESTHELP lawyers. Susan Mancuso, the former Town Attorney, was also involved in the lease approval process. Every lawyer who worked on the lease in 2004 said it was legal. It's true that any citizen can request an audit by the State Comptroller. But, as of today the State comptroller hasn't issued an opinion that the town agreement is wrong. Just because you, anonymous blogger, say it's illegal, doesn't mean it is. Do you practice law? Do you specialize in municipal law? If the state comptroller had any concerns about the agreement don't you think that the responsible thing for the state to have done would be to have advised the Town government not to approve the payments to the school district. This was not done. The Town Board asked the comptroller to issue an opinion before last Wednesday's meeting. No opinion was ever issued. So comptroller hevesi can't be that concerned.
Minus a directive from the state or court the town has a legal commitment to honor their promise. I hope that councilman Bass, councilwoman Barnes and Juettner will show the community that they can be trusted.

Anonymous said...

Dear greenburgh taxpayer: If the town would tell you that they were placing a homeless shelter on your street would you support the shelter or would you fight it? If you fight the shelter and lose would you be angry? Would you be less angry if you and your neighbors received some benefit--tax benefits or community enhancements? The goal of the WESTHELP partnership was to give immediate neighbors of a homeless facility a dividend.

gr said...

Dear Anonymous 1,

What lawyer ever said the arrangment was legal. Why isnt the legal opinion posted on any website. Let's see it.

Dear Anonymous 2,

If a homesless shelter or any other nonconforming use were proposed for my street, I would evaluate it, and if I thought appropriate would work within New York State law for compromises, etc.

Anonymous said...

residents in the irvington school district were gifted the so called taxter ridge park and preserve which no one can find and for which there is no parking. maybe the homeowners who live right next to the park (and thus who were spared development) should pay a tax premium for having the town, the state and the county's largess in establishing this park which only they can use.what about the residents who live near airports? are they not entitled to compensation? compensation schemes such as mr feiner favors only serve to further balkanize the town and pit neighbor against neighbor. plus as we have now seen in the journal news, we have a junior rosyln situation in valhalla with the money being used for lavish dinner cruises for kids and parents who dont even live in the town of greenburgh!

Anonymous said...

Gee, maybe this is why the Edgemont/Hartsdale people are so upset.

1. Villages get subsidized with tax scheme courts say fix.

2. Valhalla SD gets $$$.

3. Irvington SD gets develpment stalled?

who is bearing cost of subsidies and get none -- gee lets think

Anonymous said...

Every municipality should do its fair share to encourage and authorize low income housing. It just seems fair as citizens of a community. I know nothing about law, but I don't believe there should be any special benefits. If the ratio of unincorporated Greenburgh's population to that of that state is 0.001, then we should have 0.1% of the state's low-income housing. (My numbers may be off, but hopefully you get the idea.)

Anonymous said...

anonymous is correct. Every community should do its fair share in an ideal world. The reality is that most communities reject low income housing. Most communities reject homeless housing. That's why we face a housing shortage. The WESTHELP partnership was a creative approach that encourages neighborhoods to support the kind of housing that no one wants to accept in their back yard.

Anonymous said...

If we want local governments to build more low income housing to meet a need - it makes good sense to give the immediate neighborhood a benefit --like reduced taxes. If my house is worth a million dollars and my neighbors house is worth a million dollars and government puts a low income housing complex near my house - my house will be harder to sell later on. I should receive a benefit.

Anonymous said...

Greenburgh 7 has a lot of low income housing that DOESNT pay tax, DOESNT PAY ANY PILOT (PAYMENTS IN LEUI OF TAX) and DOESNT get any state Mckinney money for homeless. G7 has shown their willingness to have low income housing and to educate the children -- WHRE IS FEINER FOR gREENBURGH 7 !!!

Anonymous said...

The town has an after school program at the Theodore Young Community Center. The community center also offers computer programs to students. Earlier this summer the Supervisor announced plans to establish an SAT summer preparation camp for students and a college admissions training camp. It's true that the Theodore Young Community Center is open to all. But, many of the programs target students who live in Fairview (Central 7).

Anonymous said...

Gee lets see -- Valhalla gets 20K per student, more for special needs (Mckinney state money), plus the 650,000 wants to give them.

versus the center -- sounds fair to me.

Merro said...

Try selling a house in Greenburgh and see how long it stays on the lot compared to other towns in Greenburgh?

People look at Greenburgh as the dumping ground for homeless shelters and a highschool with a bad name. Even the road to the HS is in a terrible mess giving the impression that it is a school in a 4th world country. There are even rumors that a number of kids that attend the Greenburgh school system are not from Greenburgh, but post a location address of some distance relative (how true or false this is, I am not sure). Is this correct?

I think no town should be given benefits like a carrot and stick. The poor of any town should be helped via the welfare system which must be funded by the State. If any town has its own welfare system by raising town taxes, then poor people will flock from other neighborhoods to get the cake.

The other question is whether Greenburgh is losing taxes by more than one family staying in a single family home, especially illegal immigrants. The town should check this out.

It is high time that the Town of Greenburgh is put on the same pedestal as Scarsdale.

Merro said...

I meant to say try selling a house in Greenburgh compared to other towns in Westchester?


The WESTHELP partnership may or may not be a good idea. But, the Town Board (NOT ONLY FEINER)unanimously approved the WESTHELP agreement in 2004. Sorry - greenburgh taxpayer--you can't back out of a contract after it is approved and signed. greenburgh taxpayer: show me a court order or letter from a state agency saying the contract is illegal.

Anonymous said...

Dear demleader,

Not only can you back out of an illegal contract, as a councilperson you should. For the size of this, why is there no written opinion saying it is legal. If there is, let's see it.

Anonymous said...

My answer to the proposed question is "yes, if done legally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion."

See Journal News article found at:

Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner insists that the town's $6.5 million gift to the Valhalla school district is legal.

The state Constitution permits towns to give gifts to school districts, but the money must be used for programs or facilities that benefit all residents townwide, such as a playground open to everyone. Here, however, the Valhalla gift benefits only residents of the school district. That makes the agreement illegal on its face. Illegal agreement are not "legally binding."

It is also illegal in New York to give away town money to private individuals and/or associations. Here, however, the Valhalla contract puts millions of dollars in the control of the Mayfair-Knollwood Civic Association, an association of private citizens accountable to no one, whose members must, according to the contract, constitute a majority of the committee that makes the decisions regarding how the town's money is to be spent.

Mr. Feiner admits that "the neighborhood is pleased that they are receiving a benefit." However, it is illegal for a town to use its money to benefit one town neighborhood to the exclusion of others. It is also extremely bad policy to do this because it tells neighbors that they, too, are entitled to taxpayer money whenever any unwanted use is proposed in their backyards.

Furthermore, it is bad policy here because the WestHELP homeless shelter is located not in anyone's backyard, but on a 30-acre college campus and Valhalla's costs of educating any children who live there is picked up entirely by the state. In short, the $6.5 million of town money that Feiner is giving away here is not compensating anyone for anything. On top of that, he is giving away millions to to a school district where two-thirds of the residents don't even live in Greenburgh.

The contract is troubling in other respects as well. Since 2003, Valhalla has received more than $1.8 million from the town - but there is nothing in the contract that permits the town to audit these funds to determine who got the money, how much was paid, and how it was spent. Mr. Feiner may be willing to accept Valhalla's verbal assurances, but let's face it: This lack of accountability for public funds is shockingly irresponsible.

Indeed, thanks to The Journal News, we now know this money is being spent on, among other things, trips to the Grand Canyon, cruises and evenings at the opera. And, courtesy of Greenburgh, one of Valhalla's elementary school principals is now getting $50,000 on top of his principal's salary.

Mr. Feiner seems to think that none of this matters, that as long as he had the support in 2003 of the other Town Board members when the contract was proposed, that a deal's a deal and must be honored no matter what.

However, the town attorney believes the agreement to be illegal, he has said so in writing, and the town has never received any legal opinion from anyone to the contrary - either then or now. Mr. Feiner insists that a lot of lawyers found the agreement to be legal, but he has nothing in writing to substantiate that claim, and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that everyone knew the agreement was illegal at the time, but figured no one would ever raise it.

Valhalla school officials should rightfully be concerned, too. Not only did they not get any opinion at the time that the agreement was legal, they agreed to hold the town harmless from and against any liability the town might incur arising directly or indirectly from the town's having provided these grants. Obviously, if the agreement is found to be illegal, there may well be claims against the town, and in turn, under the indemnity against Valhalla, to get the money back.

I understand these developments may be personally embarrassing to Mr. Feiner. I know he took credit for the Valhalla agreement and staked his reputation on it. But however well-intentioned he may have been in trying to devise a way to benefit the Mayfair-Knollwood neighborhood, the ends do not justify the means, he is not above the law, and if this means putting an end to the Valhalla agreement, then that's what must be done.

WestHELP Supporter said...

What was most puzzling and disturbing about Sunday's Jurnal News editorial "A Cash Shelter" was the newspaper saying it found the WestHELP Funding agreement "distasteful."

Oh, really?

While the editorial admitted that it had supported the arrangement back in 2001, but as it says now, only because of "rampant NIMBYism in all of the Lower Hudson." the editorial writers must have also overlooked the Dec. 23, 2002 editorial "NIMBY, Not Here" (below) which praised the agreement as "an excellent example of a neighborhood working to harbor much-needed diversity that's rare in a time where NIMBYism (not-in-my-backyard) is the norm." Not only that, the editorial stated that "keeping the shelter in place is not only a financial bonus for the town, school and fire districts, but also will plant some community roots, although they may be temporary, for shelter residents."

How can the editorial staff find the agreement distasteful now when they endorsed it back in December of 2002? How can it be praised as a great deal back then -- a "financial bonus for the town, school and fire districts" -- but not now? It was a "win" back then, according to the Journal News. Now it's a loser?

The Journal News, its editors and writers, are the ones who should be ashamed. The newspaper's coverage has been blatantly biased, unfair and one-sided -- journalism at its worst. The Washington Post this ain't.

NIMBY, not here
The Journal News
December 23, 2002
Section: Opinion
Page: 4B

Legislators should move to keep WestHELP in Greenburgh

A potential pact between Greenburgh and Westchester County that would allow the WestHELP apartment complex for the homeless to remain on the campus of Westchester Community College in Greenburgh is an excellent example of a neighborhood working to harbor much-needed diversity that's rare in a time where NIMBYism (not-in-my-backyard) is the norm.

Since 1991, WestHELP, a nonprofit housing organization funded in part by Westchester County and the state, has maintained a 108-unit residence on WCC's campus. Under the original agreement with the town, the shelter was supposed to be turned into affordable housing for senior citizens in September 2001. In February, a committee of residents from the Mayfair-Knollwood neighborhood - which borders the WestHELP complex - working with the town, formulated a plan that would permit the shelter to continue operation, but would pay the town $1.2 million annually as a form of "rent." A portion of those funds would be distributed to the Valhalla school district - attended by children living at WestHELP - and to the Fairview Fire District, which serves the shelter.

Neighbors working to keep a shelter in their neighborhood? Unheard of. But it's happening. And we encourage members of the county Board of Legislators to support the proposed partnership when they vote on it, possibly as early as next month. Keeping the shelter in place is not only a financial bonus for the town, school and fire districts, but also will plant some community roots, although they may be temporary, for shelter residents. That's a sentiment that's even more important in the transient life of a homeless person.

The pact is a win on many fronts: In addition to the $1.2 million payment from WestHELP, the agreement would prevent creation of any new social-service facilities in north Greenburgh. That's fair, considering that Greenburgh, according to town officials, hosts as much as 55 percent of the county's homeless population. Also, keeping the shelter in place would avoid the costly dilemma of finding a new place for the people currently living there.

NIMBYism is alive and well in many areas. How enlightening to know that it's managed to be resisted in Greenburgh's north end.

First Amendment Protector said...

There are a couple of disturbing and alarming things going on these days in Greenburgh that all residents should be deeply concerned about. No, it's not whether the town's WestHELP agreement with the Valhalla school district is legal or not but, rather, concerns a local government's promise made to a community and its apparent willingness to go back on its word years later.

The suggestion made now by some that the deal -- as constructed – is illegal would be an indictment against the due diligence of the town but does not absolve the town of its original promise made to the neighborhood community. How can any resident feel comfortable with locally elected officials who will break their word? That is government at its worst.

Even more alarming, however, is the threatening and bullying position that the new town council aide Gil Kaminer took on this issue. First, as described publicly by Valhalla school superintendent Diane Ramos-Kelly at the Oct. 11 town board meeting, was the threat Kaminer made to her following the Tuesday afternoon work session that the school district wouldn't get the money it sought if a large crowd came to the town meeting in support of the school -- this coming after it had been determined that the board would vote to approve the spending of the $439,000 the Valhalla schools already had accrued but had not yet spent. The next night, Mr. Kaminer made similar comments to several district residents before the board meeting that the large pro-schools turnout "wasn't going to go well" for the district. Was it a mere coincidence then that soon after the meeting began Mr. Sheehan announced (with some lame reasoning) that he planned to hold over the vote. Hmmmmmmm.

Whether the WestHELP Partnership agreement is constitutional or not is open to legal interpretation that only a court of law can ultimately decide. We KNOW that denying residents their first amendment rights to free speech and lawful assembly is illegal and unconstitutional. Even Mr. Bernstein and other frequent critics of the town would agree with that. It is despicable and unconscionable that a public servant would threaten harm to anyone in (or outside) the town and try to silence any group on an issue. Now, what will the town council do about Mr. Kaminer’s comments?

Anonymous said...

After reading Dave Wilson's article on 11/10 about the unreported $500,000 in greenburgh's accounts the thought occurs this would indicate that their have been five payments under the sublease. Yet, Valhalla is only in year three of their grant. What happened to the first two years of the grant? Is that sitting in some account as well? $1.3 million? Or did Valhalla get that money with no strings and not spend it to the liking of Mayfair/Knollwood, prompting the "grant"?

Fair Question?