An Open Letter from Mayor Victoria Gearity, Trustee Rika Levin, and Trustee Manuel Quezada
There have been many voices in the public discussion of ETPA, the NYS rent stabilization program. We have actively sought to learn from articles, workshops, stakeholder meetings, community members, and housing and land use experts. A variety of options were considered as part of this process. The option to establish a class of buildings is built into the ETPA legislation.
On Wednesday, February 20, we will be voting on a resolution that will change how ETPA applies to our community. This week’s vote is a compromise solution that minimizes the greatest downsides of ETPA, while addressing the needs of Ossining residents.
What will change about ETPA in Ossining?
The resolution we are voting on this week states that ETPA will be repealed for buildings with 6-20 units. These mom and pop building owners tend to be residents in our community, and do not have the staff and attorneys needed to navigate the ETPA bureaucracy.
ETPA will continue to be in place for buildings with greater than 20 units, which represents a total of over 1,000 units. Owners of buildings with greater than 20 units may choose to join a class of buildings that is exempt from ETPA. One of the most inequitable aspects of ETPA as it was passed in Ossining on September 5, is that it is building-based, not people-based. This new progressive forward-thinking solution will allow 20% of a building to be set aside for tenants who demonstrate a financial need.
How does creating a new class of buildings minimize the financial downside of ETPA?
Some owners of large buildings may choose to continue the ETPA registration process that began last fall. These larger buildings have staff able to navigate the bureaucratic process of getting allowable rent increases for property renovations and other incentives. While over time the assessed value of these buildings will be deflated, there will likely be fewer ETPA buildings impacting the village’s overall assessed value. If half of the eligible units remain in the program, Ossining would still have more ETPA units than almost any other village or town in Westchester.
Some owners will choose to join the class of buildings that provides 20% of their units to residents who, for a family of four, earn in the range of $40,000-$58,000/year. Buildings in this class will be helping to provide affordability for a large segment of our community that struggles to meet their basic housing expenses.
How does ETPA undermine progress in upgrading substandard housing?
Smaller buildings are the ones that are most likely to be purchased by our local affordable housing nonprofit. In recent years IFCA has purchased substandard buildings and transformed them into high quality affordable units—a win-win for Ossining. If ETPA were to remain in its current form, it would undermine progress on this front.
The state regulations inherent in ETPA prevent investment in existing substandard buildings. The margins for the return on investment in ventures like these are tight, given the high price of housing and the costs associated with bringing these buildings up to code. Having the ability to control the rents that will be charged, even for apartments intended to be rented affordably, is essential for minimizing the financial risk. The intention of ETPA is not to prevent this kind of investment from happening. Unfortunately, the reality is that it does. Although ETPA allows for the exemption of buildings that undergo substantive rehabilitation, they can only be considered for an exemption from rent regulations after the project is completed. Lending agencies who finance the project cannot take that risk. Similarly, existing owners who want to improve their buildings are not guaranteed that they will be able to cover the costs of such improvements (i.e. new, energy efficient HVAC systems).
How do we provide local support for tenants?
We recognize that not all landlords treat tenants or properties with equal regard. For any tenant who has issues and is not in an ETPA building, we encourage you to contact the Landlord Tenant Relations Council (LTRC) through the village website. This council has been strengthened in recent years to become a valuable tool in resolving landlord-tenant issues. The LTRC is also developing tools for educating tenants on their rights.
What is the next action step for economic development and housing synergy?
This week’s vote is only one step in a holistic approach to ensuring that our economic development and housing actions work in synergy. Even most ETPA advocates acknowledge that it isn’t the solution to housing affordability for an economically diverse community like ours. Next week’s Village Board work session will focus on potentially developing an under-utilized village owned property into a mixed-use mixed-income project that would provide commercial space as well as homes for families roughly earning from about $35,000/year to about $95,000/year.
We are fortunate to have the support of affordable housing experts from county and state government, as well as local and area nonprofits as we navigate this process. One of the first steps in any discussion about development is to reach out to the Ossining School District. We have had a preliminary discussion with Superintendent Sanchez about how the schools might be part of this project in a more direct way than ever before, and we’ll be meeting again soon to discuss more concrete options.
How can you be involved?
On Wednesday, February 20 at 7:30pm at the courthouse on Spring Street, is our legislative session when we will vote on the ETPA compromise resolution described above. There is an opportunity to speak about the ETPA resolution prior to the Village Board vote. To read the full agenda, click here.
On Wednesday, February 27 at 7:30pm at Village Hall, 16 Croton Avenue, is the work session when we will consider a potential mixed-use mixed-income development on village owned property currently used as an organic matter transfer station on Water Street. Work sessions are forums when the Village Board meets with staff and experts to get informed on potential action to be taken, and generally is not open for public comment. However, the public is invited to attend in person or to watch the meeting on television, the village website, or YouTube.
Join us on Thursday, February 28 at 7pm at the Ossining Public Library for an information session on the Comprehensive Plan Update getting under way. To learn more about a comprehensive plan and how you might apply to be part of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, click here.
Mayor Victoria Gearity
Trustee Rika Levin
Trustee Manuel Quezada