By ASHLEY HELMS
Members of local nonprofits, along with Mamaroneck Union Free School District Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps, came together at the Feb. 11 Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit to discuss the individual challenges that lower-income and immigrant populations face in both the town and village of Mamaroneck.
While Shaps spoke about what the school district is doing to improve opportunities for its students, Angela Torero, a program associate at the Washingtonville Housing Alliance, and Richard Nightingale, chairman of the housing alliance, focused the discussion on their efforts to increase affordable housing in a community with high rental prices. Hispanic Resource Center Executive Director Zoey Colon also joined the panel for the
Torero said the housing alliance has seen an increase in demand for affordable housing options. For a two-bedroom apartment in the Village of Mamaroneck, rent prices can be as much as $1,300 per month and a three-bedroom unit could run as much as $2,300 per month, she said, and most of the people she works with can’t afford rent that high.
“For the majority of people that come through my door, those prices are not reasonable for them,” Torero said.
Torero said that, when new clients come into the housing alliance building, located at 136 Library Lane, for housing services, they’re asked to fill out information cards that ask the maximum amount of rent they can pay, among other questions.
About 80 percent of her clients say the most they can pay per month is between $400 and $600, Torero said, which is unlikely to be found in Mamaroneck. She said larger families who can’t afford the rent prices in homes that can accommodate them may be forced to live in much smaller quarters.
“This can lead to overcrowding in homes. It wasn’t a problem a few years ago, but it is today,” Torero said.
To provide more housing opportunities, Torero said the housing alliance built 600 units of affordable housing in the village in 2007. The units include one, two and three bedrooms and range between $800 and $975 per month in rental price.
Without affordable housing alternatives, Torero said many of her clients face eviction because of high rent prices.
“Some of them have relocated to Yonkers or the Bronx or even out of state, but they want to stay in Mamaroneck,” she said.
Nightingale, who is also the president of Westhab—a non-profit Westchester County organization offering housing and social services to the homeless—said the organization provides 1,000 units of affordable housing in cities such as New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Yonkers.
Westhab also helps homeless residents transfer into permanent housing and provides employment services including job training, job placement and resume writing.
“These people are not easy job placements, they’re folks who have been out of the work force for many years, folks who may not have a college degree or even a high school education,” Nightingale said.
Westhab recently built an elderly housing complex in New Rochelle to help further improve affordable housing options, Nightingale said.
“There’s not enough affordable housing in [the county] to keep up with the demand,” he said
Speaking specifically about the Mamaroneck school district, Shaps provided a few statistics. He said 12 percent of the district’s student population is considered economically disadvantaged and qualify for reduced lunch programs. Graduation rates for Latino students now exceed that of white students; 83 percent of Latino students graduate from high school, while only 70 percent of white students do, according to Shaps.
To promote excellence within Hispanic students from a very early age, Shaps said the district rolled out its first dual-language kindergarten classes in September 2013, he said.
The district’s dual-language kindergarten classes have 48 students enrolled this year and the district anticipates expanding the program through fifth grade in the future.
The program works by alternating between English and Spanish curriculum on a daily basis. Latino and white parents can sign their children up for the classes before the beginning of the each school year.
Shaps said the program has been working quite well and the children are easily picking up the dual-language curriculum.
“It has been remarkable to see the day-to-day learning in those classes,” Shaps said.
After the three panelists discussed their specific topics, audience members were invited to ask questions. Village of Mamaroneck Justice Christie Derrico, a Republican, asked how aid, like Section 8 housing vouchers, are broken up in the Village of Mamaroneck.
Colon, of the Hispanic Resource Center—a village non-profit that provides social services to Hispanic families—said the community is in a “political blind spot,” meaning it has a high median income, but has pockets of concentrated poverty like in the Washingtonville neighborhoods. State and county agencies sometimes overlook Mamaroneck for aid because of this, she said.
Another issue stems from the area’s immigrant population, some of whom aren’t eligible for Section 8 benefits because of their immigration status, meaning they may not be living in the country legally, Colon said.
To apply for Section 8, at least one person in the family must be a citizen or legal resident.
“Our population is different because of undocumented residents,” Colon said.
The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit meets every other Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. at the Nautilus Diner, located at 1240 W. Boston Post Road.