No Place To Call Home: Turn to Tara looks at affordable housing crisis

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A Turn to Tara investigation is looking at the lack of affordable housing in Westchester.

The housing crisis in Westchester is impacting its most vulnerable residents, and many people don't even know it exists. Affordable housing options are at extremely low levels right now in Westchester, which could force many into homelessness.

While Westchester has soaring real estate values, low unemployment and plenty of high-earners, there are also some in dire need of housing help. Joan Williamson says she is an unwitting victim of the affordable housing shortage.

“I’m going to be on the street, and I worked for 30 years,” she says.

Housing Action Council director Rose Noonan says there are less than a dozen affordable housing units available in the entire county. With a population of 1 million, that gives people a 1 in 83,000 chance of getting one of those units.

Affordable housing in Westchester is about $1,100 for a one-bedroom or $1,400 for a two-bedroom – about the same cost to rent a decent-sized house in other states like North Carolina.

Williamson’s problems began 10 years ago when she was diagnosed with a cancer she says will never go away. She says ongoing chemotherapy treatments ultimately forced her to leave her career as a paralegal in Manhattan behind.

She’s now weeks away from losing her home in Rye. Williamson says she is in foreclosure and doesn’t have a place to go.  She applied for federal assistance and looked for a Section 8 voucher. The voucher pays the difference between rent and what a person can afford.

She says she struggled to find any help because all of the vouchers in Westchester are spoken for. She says the waiting lists have been closed for five years.

Joseph Shuldiner, who runs the largest municipal housing authority in the county, is responsible for 3,000 Section 8 vouchers in Yonkers.

The wait list still has 10,000 names on it. It’s the same story for the city’s 2,000 units of public housing.

“We closed waiting lists for family units a number of years ago, and we are about to close the list for seniors. Because being on a waiting list is meaningless when we have so little turnover,” says Shuldiner.

Noonan and Shuldiner say the solution lies in more federal assistance.

For people who are facing homelessness like Williamson, there is more bad news: Most of the county's homeless shelters are at full capacity.

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