Wednesday, May 23, 2012


The Edgemont Community Council has a facebook page that constantly distorts the truth about the town. Many of these inaccurate posts are written by Robert Bernstein,former head of the ECC.  The following is in response to the inaccurate statements made below. The ECC does not provide me with the ability to post comments on their page. I know they read my blog so I am taking the liberty of responding.
From: Timothy Lewis

Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 9:27 AM

To: Paul Feiner; Town Board

Subject: RE: fyi...from facebook page re: Ferncliff

It is simply not true that the 108 units on the former WestHELP site could generate $1,000 a month in rent. In fact, the Greenburgh Housing Authority’s proposed use of the property for seniors would generate, at most, $550 to $625 per month based upon Housing Authority studies that most seniors in the area do not have incomes in excess of $25,000 and the Housing Authority would only be able to charge renters a maximum of 30% of that $25,000 income or $625. Housing Authority representatives probably understand the financial dynamics better than anyone because affordable housing is what they do.

In addition, the 108 units must be renovated or rehabilitated before occupancy by anyone to make the units ADA compliant for seniors or for anyone else. Who is going to provide the money for these renovations?


From: Paul Feiner

Sent: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 11:21 PM

To: Town Board; Timothy Lewis

Subject: fyi...from facebook page re: Ferncliff (written by bernsein)

The Edgemont Community Council, Inc.

1. 3 hours ago


Town Attorney Tim Lewis said today that County Executive Rob Astorino was in favor of the Town's proposal to demolish the 108 units of affordable housing at the former WestHELP facility on the campus of Westchester Community College and replace it with a long-term ground lease to allow Ferncliff Manor, a private for-p...rofit school for developmentally disabled children to build a new residential school and facility.

Mr. Lewis said at today's Town Board work session that a revised lease for Ferncliff would be released as early as next week by the county executive. The lease would then have to be approved by the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

Ken Jenkins, the chair of the county board, and two of Greenburgh's county legislators, MaryJane Shimsky and Alfreda Williams, have said the Democratic majority on the county board would reject any proposal to demolish the existing housing at the site.

The county is required under the terms of a federal housing settlement not to impede affordable housing anywhere in the county.

Support for a proposal to demolish 108 units of affordable housing in an area that has historically been opposed for allegedly racially exclusionary reasons to having affordable housing there in the first place was thought to be something the county executive would not publicly embrace, particularly now when a federal district judge has found that Mr. Astorino had violated the terms of that settlement agreement.

However, Mr. Astorino's chief spokesman is the former head of the Mayfair Knollwood Civic Association which for years was involved in the effort to stop the housing from being built -- and sought to incorporate as its own village until the NAACP intervened and then town supervisor Tony Veteran refused to certify the incorporation petition on grounds the village was being formed for the purpose of excluding African Americans. Mr. Feiner has for decades aligned himself with the Mayfair Knollwood Civic Association.

There has thus far been no formal announcement of support for the Town's Ferncliff proposal from the County Executive's office.

But if the town attorney's comments are true, Mr. Astorino's support means the property will likely remain vacant for the foreseeable future and the Town will not therefore see any rental income from the former WestHELP property any time soon.

The 108 efficiency apartments at WestHELP were once the Town's largest revenue producing asset except for property taxes. WestHELP was paying the Town $1.2 million a year under a ten-year lease that expired in September 2011.

Mr. Feiner was twice offered an extension of the lease in March and September 2008 for another 10-year period, but did not respond to the county's offer because he wanted a substantial portion of the money to go to the Valhalla School District, which would have been illegal. The state comptroller had ruled in 2007 that Mr. Feiner's agreement to give the Vahalla School District up to $6.5 million of the rental revenue from WestHELP was unlawful.

The property will now remain vacant for the foreseeable future, producing no money for the Town. Under the Town's lease with the county, and pursuant to a county law adopted back in 1990, the Town may only use the property for low and moderate income housing. As long as the Ferncliff proposal is still alive, the Town has made clear that it will keep the apartments vacant.

At the same time, the Town continues to insist that using the 108 efficiency apartments for low and moderate income housing will generate far less income to the Town than it would receive if Ferncliff were to get a long-term lease for the property.

However, a spokesman for HUD, each unit would have a market rent of about $1000 a month, which means that every month the Town keeps the units vacant, the Town is losing at least $100,000 a month. Mr. Feiner disputes this assessment, claiming the most the Town could get is around $200,000 a year. However, the Town has never held an RFP for the property making clear that it would have to be used for low and moderate income housing. Therefore, the Town has no documentation to substantiate Mr. Feiner's assertion.

In the meantime, there is no assurance that Ferncliff would generate much, if any, rent to the Town, since it would be depending on state aid to finance the demolition of the 108 apartments and build a new facility at the site. In addition, under the terms of the proposed lease, rent would likely not be paid until construction is completed and the amount that Ferncliff could afford to pay is determined.


Geoff Loftus said...

The HUD spokesman referred to in the ECC's Facebook posting was quoted by Dave Wilson in one of his WestHELP stories for the Journal News and repeated several times.  His comment was based on the market value in Westchester County for studio apartments of that size.  HUD is required to maintain a list of the market values for such apartments because, under the Section 8 housing program, HUD offers vouchers so that tenants who can't afford to pay market rates receive a subsidy that enables them to pay their landlords the market rate. 

The Town, by contrast, does not know what the market rate is because the Town has never conducted an RFP for these units. Furthermore, even though the Town has "leased" the apartments to the Housing Authority since October 2011, the Housing Authority has thus far inspected only four of the 108 units and did so for the first time only two weeks ago.  The Housing Authority therefore has no idea what the costs for renovating the units might be -- one problem is that three of the four apartments that were inspected were missing kitchen sinks, no doubt due to the fact that the Town left the units vacant for seven months before anyone took a look.  In order to know what the market value is, the Town would have to conduct an RFP.

Informal requests from Paul Feiner to his "friends" are no substitute for an RFP to all interested developers. WestHab is a not-for-profit developer based in Hastings that got a politically controversial zoning change from Mr. Feiner to build 28 units of affordable housing at 22 Tarrytown Road at a cost of more than $12 million.  If 28 units cost $12 million to build, try to imagine the cost of building 108 units.  Second, it makes no sense to combine the units. Combining the units would allow them to be leased to families which would burden the local school district. 

The purpose and intent of having 108 efficiency apartments for low and moderate income tenants, which was envisioned when the county originally agreed to lease the property to the Town in 1990 for a 30-year period, commencing in 2001, was that the property would ideally be suited for senior citizens.  Today, however, such housing would probably require elevators; that, however, is probably the only expense that would have to be undertaken. The cost of such renovations should come from the Town.  Based on the WestHELP sublease that was guaranteed by the County, the Town received $1.2 million a year for ten years, beginning in 2001, with no out-of-pocket costs whatsoever.  If the Town doesn't have the money to renovate the units to make them ADA compliant, assuming that is in fact a requirement, the Town has no one to blame but itself.

It's interesting, however, that WestHab estimates that rents could range from between $835 to $1650, which is probably in keeping with HUD's estimates for Westchester for comparable apartments. What makes no sense, though, is why, if the units rented for even as little as $835 a month, or $90,180 a month (108 x $835) or $1,082,160 a year, WestHab says the Town would only receive $200,000 a year in rent.  It couldn't possibly cost WestHab $800K to maintain the units, which underscores why the Town needs to do an RFP, and should have done one a year ago, instead of engaging in this sideshow right now.

Geoff Loftus
President, ECC

Paul Feiner said...

we did an RFP and have tried to find possible tenants who could use the property for affordable housing purposes.