I write in response to the recent letter by Bill Spade, founding member of Chappaqua for Responsible Affordable Housing (CFRAH), on behalf of Conifer Realty, LLC (Conifer). Since early on in the project, the members of CFRAH have been engaged in a campaign to bring an end to the affordable housing development underway at 54 Hunts Place.
That such a group materialized only in opposition to this development is disappointing. For the decades preceding the start of this project and Westchester’s 2009 federal desegregation agreement, no such campaign had been mounted in order to create affordable housing in the community.In a town with black and Latino populations of just 1.25% and 2.68%, respectively, this is an imbalance that was simply not being addressed.
Conifer was encouraged to undertake this project because of the clear need for safe, affordable, and diverse housing in Chappaqua. HUD’s interest and involvement only came after strong opposition threatened to undo the important progress being made. Approvals granted by New Castle’s previous town board suddenly fell at risk of being reversed. Initially the site wasn’t appropriate for affordable housing because it was the “gateway” to the community, then it was said that the residents would be ridiculed for being different and living in the “low-income project”. Now as a last resort, new efforts to deter the housing are under a pretext of fire safety issues. An Assistant Chief of the FDNY has thoroughly debunked the safety claims in his evaluation and report. The bottom line is that HUD would not have initiated an investigation without a legitimate concern about discrimination.
Yet, mischaracterizations continue. For example, it was not Conifer that selected the site at 54 Hunts Place, but New Castle officials, who re-zoned the location in 2010 (with unanimous approval from the Planning Board) to accommodate transit-oriented workforce housing of greater than 40 units. Town officials, who believed the site worthy, conscious of the needs of affordable housing residents, and safe, directed Conifer to the site after they re-zoned it, and Conifer’s own evaluations confirmed that belief.
Not only is Conifer a nationally-recognized developer of affordable housing, but even CFRAH made note of its socially and environmentally conscious work, when it remarked on the praise it received from the Town of Brookhaven. Similar praise has been extended for its affordable housing developments in Ithaca. Conifer illustrated its commitment to these ideals when it submitted a proposal for a 36 unit development, despite the city’s zoning allowing for a larger development. After more than two years of meetings, and public hearings to include community voices it again revised the proposal to the 28-unit concept now on the table.
The promise of these units with easy access to the commuter lines with rents that will attract diversity to the town is something that should be praised, and an example that should be built upon. A mere 28 units is an important first step, but it should not be the end.
If community members are dedicated to addressing the need for affordable housing, then I say the proof is in the pudding. One development does not preclude another, and future residents of Chappaqua would surely welcome the additional options.
In the meantime, I am certain that those currently seeking convenient, aesthetic, and safe affordable housing will continue to praise the high quality and socially conscious work that Conifer has built its reputation upon, and which will be exemplified in the development at 54 Hunts Place. The only risk these residents run of stigmatization is if the community at large fails to open its arms and its doors to new neighbors.
Co-chair, civil rights practice group, Newman Ferrara LLP