Local Summit: Community Temperature

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Rich Slingerland, Steve Josephson, Melinda Lehman, Jaine Eney and James Whittemore

How is the Mamaroneck/Larchmont community faring three years into the Great Recession?

This was the question posed by the Local Summit’s program, “Taking the Temperature of the Community,” held June 21st at the Nautilus Diner.

No one said everything is great. But some speakers and audience members  found conditions fair to pretty good. Others saw bleakness.

Mamaroneck Village Manager Rich Slingerland was one who found conditions both good and bad. He said that many businesses, particularly restaurants along Mamaroneck Ave., were going gangbusters. They would do even better with better parking. Conversely, he also indicated that municipal revenues were not fully adequate.  This has resulted in employee layoffs in Mamaroneck Village. Layoffs also have been made in the Town of Mamaroneck and there is a decline in staff by attrition in Larchmont. Mr. Slingerland said he expected his government  to be able to continue to deliver “the same level of services but the speed of delivery might be slower.”

Ginny Anderson, a mortgage counselor associated with Wells Fargo Bank, highlighted bright spots in her world. She said she was dealing with a new class of home buyers born after 1982, many from Wall Street. They are “looking locally for $1.2 million starter houses.” She called them the Millenials and said they are informed, smart buyers who are comfortable with cash down payments of  30-40% of the purchase price.

Ms. Anderson also said that foreclosures are not a factor in this area and there  are relatively few short sales —sales of homes at prices below the value of  the existing mortgages.

A more dire view of housing was presented by Mary Lee Berridge in reporting information from Mamaroneck Town’s Community Services Director Anna Danoy who was unable to attend the gathering. That  office has seen “a 100% increase in the number of applications for Federal housing assistance for the period January to June 2010 as compared to the same period in 2009,” she said. “That trend has continued into 2011 as well.” Ms. Dannoy’s report also noted that Federal funding for housing assistance in 2011 has been reduced by 2%.

Jeremy Ingpen, executive director of the Washingtonville Housing Alliance, said that while there were some reports that rental housing is in short supply his organization finds there is a glut of low-priced rentals as many potential low income renters in this category have lost employment or moved away. He said the average day laborer family or similar worker has an annual budget for housing of only $8000 – $10,000 and 60% do not have money for food, clothing and fares to work.

James Whittemore and Cary Sleeper from Sotheby’s  Realty reported that houses for sale at from $750,000 to $1,200,000  within the Mamaroneck School District are doing well. The median home sale price to date in 2011 was $869,000, down 12% from $992,000 in 2010. In 2006 the median sale price was $1,047,000. Sotheby’s projects the number of home sales for all of 2011 to be in the 210 – 220 category, compared with sales of 236 in 2010 and 160 in 2009. It was in 2009 that the full brunt of the economic collapse was first experienced.

The realtors echoed Ms. Anderson’s comments that buyers with whom they deal today are smart, well informed and not willing to compromise on features trumpeted on the House and Garden TV Channel, such as master bathrooms, marble or granite counters and up-to-date appliances. They urged the audience to fix up and enjoy their own houses and be ready for future possible sales.

Mayor Norman Rosenblum, also speaking from the audience, said, “I am an optimist. There always are cycles — up and down. And most of us get into a trap of  not looking or planning ahead. Times surely will change.” As an example, he said there is a new building on Mamaroneck Ave., near the train station that has been empty for two years. The reason is no parking. “We have to plan for the next five years or we will wind up with empty stores.” He also suggested that numerous successful appeals for real estate tax reduction have been a problem and his Village and the other local municipalities have to find new, additional sources of revenue that won’t change the character of the area.

Turning again to the positive, the mayor said this is a community rich in volunteers and diversity. He also said there are opportunities for further Village business

growth. He pointed to Harbor Island Park as one of the Village’s least utilized growth assets.

One of those not as optimistic as the Mayor was County Assemblywoman Judy Myers. She said that the audience should be aware that the U.S. Congress is making major cuts in food stamps, affordable housing and aid for children. She said this will have a direct impact on the “temperature of the community.”

The Chambers of Commerce in Mamaroneck Village and Larchmont were both reported to be working and marketing hard  to improve the local business and job picture. Steve Josephson, owner of the Toy Box and president of the Mamaroneck Chamber, said new members are joining his Chamber and putting their  weight behind marketing programs. He said the Chamber now has 137 members vs. 119 last year.

Jaine Eney, Larchmont Trustee and liaison  with the Larchmont business community, said that 18 months ago there was panic in the local retail community. No longer, she said. Things are getting better: 19 new stores have opened  and 11 have expanded or moved to better local facilities. More stores are opening than closing. She said improving local business is the top priority of the Larchmont board of trustees.

A principal of  Antonio’s barbershop in Larchmont told a different story to a Summit member prior to the meeting. He said his business has declined 30% in the past few years. Executives who formerly came in for a trim every two weeks now get their hair cut every six weeks, he said. He added that nearby empty storefronts were the result of rents being way too high and some retailers coming in with offerings not suited to the community.

Melinda Lehman, head of the Larchmont/Mamaroneck Hunger Task Force, reiterated Mayor Rosenblum’s praise for volunteers as a major asset in the community. Her organization operates exclusively with volunteer help. It provides food for 1100 people, 600 below the poverty line. This includes 250 families who depend on the Task Force  for food which they receive on a twice monthly basis. The client numbers have grown every year since the bad floods of 2007, although thus far this year “numbers are flat.” She attributes this to some recipients finding work and others leaving town. She said financial support for the Hunger Task Force has been strong, enabling the Task Force to meet increased demand. “This is a very caring community,” she said. The number of givers has risen  steadily, mostly from offerings in the $25 – $50 range.

Robert Waldman, a leader in issues affecting seniors, said he is concerned about the welfare of  local seniors. He said that on average the income of  seniors drops by 50% from peak years after retirement. Luis Quiros, a professor and social worker, picked  up on this and said that “going fishing after retirement” is something in the past. Most seniors have to work because they need the income.

The above program, the last of the current season, was hosted by the Local Summit, an informal community council that seeks to make Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Rye Neck a better place to live for everyone. The Summit’s public programs on issues of concern to the community will resume in September and thereafter at 7:45 a.m., the third Tuesday of  each month, at the Nautilus Diner.

— Submitted by Harold Wolfson

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