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Leaders See Challenges, Opportunities for Westchester’s Real Estate Market 

Top row, from left, Joseph Apicella, Greg Belew and Debbie Doern; Bottom row, from left, Michael Goldrick, Wilson Kimball, Richard Nightingale and Mark Weingarten

The BCW launched the first installment of the annual State of Westchester’s Economy series on Thursday with a discussion about local residential and commercial development in 2023.

The one-hour discussion covered the inventory shortage facing home buyers, necessity of tax incentives for large commercial development like Regeneron’s expansion, and the changing views on affordable housing, among other topics.

The webinar’s panel of experts included Joseph Apicella, Executive Vice President of MacQuesten Development; Greg Belew, New York/tri-state Division President of Quarterra; Debbie Doern, Senior Vice President of Houlihan Lawrence; Michael P. Goldrick, President and CEO of PCSB Bank; Wilson Kimball, President and CEO of the Yonkers Housing Authority; Richard Nightingale, President of CEO of Westhab; and Mark P. Weingarten, Partner at DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr.

BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon moderated the virtual program. “The rebirth of Westchester’s urban centers as highly desirable places to live is obvious to everybody,” said Gordon during her introductions. “Our downtowns are being revitalized with new economic vibrancy.”

Weingarten started the discussion with an overview of the real estate landscape.

“We have companies like Regeneron, thank goodness, that are growing. Healthcare systems that are adding hospitals. There’s just been a tremendous amount of development,” said Weingarten whose firm is working on millions of square feet of commercial space. “We still have office vacancies at record highs. We have buildings that must be repurposed because they have no value without it. We have the retail market, which is in shambles, available tenants have decreased dramatically.”

Nightingale said the housing Westhab builds is essential to support Westchester’s economy. “We are building for the lifeblood of our economy and we’re building for people earning $50,000 to $80,000 a year. These are the folks that staff our economy, that work on our main streets, that are teaching our kids, that are doing so many critical things. So, I think it is really important in Westchester to understand that all affordable housing is really workforce housing,” said Nightingale.

Kimball said Gov. Kathy Hochul’s New York Housing Compact addresses a housing construction shortfall by promoting transit-oriented development. “Mayor Spano did it in Yonkers. They’re doing it in New Rochelle. They’re doing it in White Plains. This is the right way to go. It’s actually very good for the environment, because it’s much more beneficial to not have people driving,” said Kimball, adding that local land-use rules need updating. “I’m totally frustrated by driving around Yonkers and seeing sites that used to have homes, sometimes multifamily homes on it, which the homes were demolished or burned down years ago and it’s a vacant lot now. But under our current zoning code, it’s not big enough to put a house on.”

Apicella said government entities should help subsidize financing gaps for builders of affordable housing. “There are gaps in our financing scenarios, and they are caused by the rising interest rates, lack of infrastructure, the impediments to the approval process,” said Apicella. “And a further discussion needs to be how do we get more for-sale housing built in Westchester County, because there is a dearth of that right now.”

Belew said that multifamily housing has a perception problem in many Westchester communities. “A lot of the impediment is often the residents of the communities being ill- informed about what is going to be developed and what the impact will be to their communities. I think a lot of people have an outdated view of multifamily in general, whether it’s affordable, market rate or anything else,” said Belew, adding that state environmental review rules also create barriers. “It really slows down the ability to get new housing approved and it opens enormous windows for people who may not even have a lot of standing to come in and challenge development.”

Doern said that despite rising interest rates, homes are still selling quickly because there is a scarcity of homes for sale for the 65% of her Westchester clients who want to remain in their communities. “A lot of people who would have scaled down didn’t…and now that the interest rates have gone up these buyers are sitting on very low interest rates,” said Doern, adding that she is seeing more cash buyers in recent years.

Goldrick said that recent bank failures have not affected Westchester’s banks. “The media is getting it a little bit wrong,” said Goldrick. “The banks that broke weren’t representative of…the community and regional banks that are out there. (Regional banks) are diversified in their deposit base and diversified in their investments.”

Summing up the program, Gordon said, “In terms of how Westchester lives and what this provides in terms of housing for our workers as well as the jobs during construction, it is very healthy.”

A copy of the webinar is posted on the BCW’s Facebook page.

The State of the Market Series is presented by PCSB Bank.

Supporting Sponsors are RM Friedland and Westchester County Office of Economic Development.

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