MTA adopts affordable housing policy for land deals
A residential development planned at the Harrison train station sparked discussion about authority’s role in housing.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority won’t require affordable housing in future authority land-development deals, but its board adopted a “statement of purpose” last week that noted a lack of affordable units placed a “heavy burden” on the region.
The MTA decided not to set its own requirements for affordable housing when it sells or leases land for residential developments, but said it would require developers honor local affordable housing laws, if they exist and so long as they are not “to the specific economic disadvantage of the MTA.”
The statement, which was adopted after four months of policy debate, also says the MTA will publicly identify any affordable housing included in land-use deals and describe the reasons for its decision.
The cash-strapped authority has ramped up efforts to sell or lease authority-owned lands for residential developments in recent years. Last year, as its first transit-oriented development, it announced a co-development deal at the Harrison Metro-North station that would build 143 apartments on what is now an MTA parking lot.
Earlier this year, it agreed to transfer MTA land in Long Island City, Queens to a developer who plans to build 900 units in a 77-story tower that will be the tallest building in New York City outside of Manhattan.
Neither development initially included affordable units as part of their plans, although Harrison ultimately negotiated with the developer to include seven affordable units, or 5 percent of the total, in that project.
Harrison hadn’t built one unit of affordable housing in 25 years despite being one of 31 municipalities in the county tagged for a share of 750 affordable housing units to be built as part of a 2009 legal settlement between Westchester and the federal government. It has yet to take action on a recommended zoning code that would set aside 10 percent of any new development for affordable units.
Fair housing advocates pushed the MTA, as a public benefit corporation, to mandate that developers in authority deals make a requirement for affordable units.
Although some MTA board members agreed, others argued the authority should only focus on maximizing profit in land deals.
Alexander Roberts, who formed the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition and lobbied the MTA, told board members at their July 22 meeting he was pleased the authority adopted a policy but was disappointed it didn’t dictate a 10 percent or 20 percent affordable housing requirement.
“Still, it is only a first step of ending the abuse of land use powers in the suburbs that restricts the housing choices of more than 40 percent of metropolitan New Yorkers who can’t afford housing in areas of good schools and economic opportunities,” he said.