After months of press events and testimony at MTA board hearings calling for the inclusion of affordable housing in a transit-oriented development (TOD) project in Harrison, the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition applauded a cooperative agreement between the MTA, the project developer, the Town of Harrison and Westchester County that provides for 5 percent of the new units to be reserved for affordable housing.
While 5 percent affordable housing is still not on par with the County’s model ordinance and is far less than the 20 percent that the Coalition was seeking, this is a critical step forward for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who successfully moderated an agreement between the MTA and a local municipality, and advocates who have been pushing the cause.
Harrison is a 45-minute ride from Grand Central Terminal and is served by about 100 daily trains, making it an ideal candidate for a high-visibility TOD project. “It’s Happening in Harrison,“ the MTA’s first TOD project, will catalyze downtown revitalization in Harrison by redeveloping 3.28 acres of surface parking adjacent to the town’s Metro-North station with “a series of pedestrian-oriented, four-story buildings lined with retail stores on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors.” Of the plan, Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti said:
“We are delighted to be proceeding with what promises to be a transformative project for Metro-North commuters and for the Town and Village of Harrison… We hope this type of suburban transit-oriented development becomes a model for communities throughout the MTA region.”
But advocates who shared the hope that this project would be a model for future transit-oriented development flagged the lack of affordable housing in the proposal. The Town of Harrison has been identified by the federal government as having exclusionary zoning practices, as evidenced by the fact that not a single unit of affordable housing has been built in at least 25 years. The Town maintains that, compared to similar towns in the county, it is already “relatively affordable”—a stance rejected by a federal housing monitor appointed to ensure that the Town upholds its agreement to provide the 750 affordable units. Westchester County’s model zoning ordinance requires any new development to devote 10 percent of its units to affordable housing, but Harrison has not yet adopted this ordinance.