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Village Being Sued for Illegal Housing Discrimination on Kensington Road Project PDF Print Email

Written by Carol P. Bartold



 

Jan. 28, 2015: Bronxville's Kensington Road project, over ten years in the making, put on hold by the 2008 economic downturn, and currently in progress with excavation on the site, has encountered another snag.

On January 15, Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. (WRO), a private nonprofit organization, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Village of Bronxville and Kensington Road developer Gateway Kensington LLC for illegal housing discrimination against families with children.

WRO filed the suit under both the federal Fair Housing Act and the New York State Human Rights Act "for discrimination based on familial status and age," as described in a WRO press release dated January 15, 2015, after an investigation by WRO of the village that was supported by a grant provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Fair Housing Initiatives Program.

Geoffrey Anderson, WRO executive director, states in the press release that "Bronxville and its developer deliberately set out to design and market new condominiums to deter families with children from moving into the village."

WRO cites an "age-targeted" special permit in the village zoning code, which, it states in the press release, "allows developers to build more units than allowed 'as of right' if the housing is 'designed to appeal primarily to individuals and couples without children.'" WRO claims that in 2013, the village granted such an age-targeted permit for the Kensington Road development project.

WRO states in the press release that the 54-unit condominium project was "intentionally designed with few bedrooms and with dens lacking closets and placed far from bathrooms. Moreover, the development will not offer any child-friendly amenities."

Marlene Zarfes, WRO's director of fair housing, is quoted in the press release as saying, "'Such discrimination is not only wrong but illegal. Municipalities violate fair housing laws when they develop housing for so-called empty nesters and discourage families from living in their communities.'" She also stated that, "while age-restricted housing for seniors can be created legally under federal law, it must be for those either 55 or 62 and older."

Geoff Thompson, spokesperson for Fareri Associates, which wholly owns Gateway Kensington LLC, stated, "While we have not yet begun to market the housing, we intend to fully comply with the Fair Housing Act. There is no age limit on who can purchase, and sales will be open to all, including families with children."

Requests for comments from Bronxville Village Hall were not answered.

Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. describes its mission as follows in the press release: "Founded in 1968 to fight housing discrimination in its region, Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization and a federally approved housing counseling agency. Its mission is to promote equal, affordable, and accessible housing opportunities for all residents of the Lower Hudson Valley."

Pictured here: Site of the new Kensington Road condominiums.

Photo by N. Bower

 
Priscilla Toomey: Spring Real Estate Market Under Way with Short Supply PDF Print Email

Written by Priscilla Toomey, Associate Broker, Julia B. Fee/Sotheby's International Realty




Jan. 28, 2015: The temperatures may still be freezing, but the spring market is under way. At the moment, inventory remains in short supply. As of January 1, there were only 13 detached single-family homes on the market in the Village of Bronxville. The median asking price for those homes was $3,950,000 and the average was $4,927,308.

There were 23 homes in this category at the end of the third quarter, with a median price of $3,495,000 and an average asking price of $4,046,043. What this reflects is that 9 of the 13 homes had asking prices above $3 million, a category in which sales have been slow. For the three homes under contract on January 1, the median price was $2,750,000 and the average asking price was $2,595,000.

For townhouses, a frequent point of entry to the Bronxville Village market, prices remain high, with the median asking price for the 5 townhouses currently on the market at $1,295,000 and the average asking price at $1,320,800. There are currently 4 townhouses under contract. Their median price was $967,000 and their average price $998,250.

For the full year 2014, the number of single-family homes sold was 58, versus 60 for the full year 2013. Prices, too, were close both years. The median price was $2,190,000 for 2014, versus $2,009,500 for 2013, and the average price was $2,176,100, versus $2,133,000 in 2013. The price per square foot was also flat in this category. In 2014 it was $622.70, versus $621.55 in 2013.

However, there were two categories with significant movement. They were townhouses and larger (3- and 4-bedroom) co-ops. Although the number of townhouse sales rose to only 25 for 2014, versus 24 for 2013, the median price rose to $1,144,900 in 2014, versus $944,500 in 2013. The average price rose to $1,185,680 in 2014 from $996,673 in 2013. Price per square foot rose to $607.60 in 2014, versus $540.50 in 2013.

For the larger co-ops, the median price in 2014 was $870,000, versus $765,000 in 2013. The average price similarly rose to $971,064 in 2014. It had been $864,233 in 2013. The price per square foot went to $521.82 in 2014 from $471.63 in 2013.

It will be interesting to watch which trends continue into 2015 and which ones change.

Pictured here: Priscilla Toomey, associate broker, JD, ABR, Top5, certified EcoBroker, SRES with Julia B. Fee/Sotheby's International Realty, 2 Park Place, Bronxville, NY 10708; cell, 914-559-8084; e-mail, CLOAKING .

 
Cindy Landis: Bronxville Attains Highest Median Sale Price in County for 2014 PDF Print Email

Written by Cindy G. Landis, Brokerage Manager of Bronxville Office, Houlihan Lawrence

Jan. 21, 2015: The housing market in Bronxville remains strong and stable. The median price of homes sold in Bronxville in 2014 was $2,190,000, up 9% from 2013. It was the second highest full-year median sale price, surpassed only in 2007 at $2,300,000. The average price per square foot was $621, essentially unchanged from 2013.

It was also a strong market for townhouses. The number of units sold remained stable, but the median sale price shot up by 22% from $939,000 in 2013 to $1,147,500 in 2014. The price per square foot was also up by 15% to $627. All in all, it was a seller's market for townhouses.

We saw 46 co-ops change hands in 2014, down from 54 in 2013, but up slightly from the 44 that closed in 2012. The median price for co-ops was $400,000, and the price per square foot was $395, continuing the steady rise since 2010.

Bronxville's unique attributes have stood the test of time and continue to make the community one of the most desirable in Westchester. In fact, Bronxville attained the highest median sale price in the county for 2014.

However, this distinction cuts both ways. Buyers today are very savvy and have limitless information available to them on the Internet. They shop comparatively not just across homes but also across communities. There is assuredly demand for "well-priced" homes in Bronxville. Sellers who position their homes to appeal to a buyer's sense of value will likely find that a receptive market awaits them in the year ahead.

Pictured here: Cindy G. Landis, brokerage manager of Bronxville office, Houlihan Lawrence.

Photo by N. Bower

 
Sheila Stoltz: 2015 Real Estate Outlook PDF Print Email

Written by Sheila Morrissey Stoltz, Licensed Real Estate Associate Broker, Houlihan Lawrence



Jan. 14, 2015: Real estate values for 2014 increased across all Bronxville-area markets. In several markets we are approaching the peak pricing we saw in 2005-2007. This contrasts with the 2008-2010 years, when we experienced a 15% price drop in some markets and extremely low sales volumes.

Since 2010, area markets have continued their upward trend in home values, supported by strong sales volume. Interest rates remain at historic lows, the stock market is at historic highs, gas prices are low, and we are entering 2015 with very manageable inventory across all markets. I expect 2015 to be another stable-to-positive year for Bronxville-area real estate.

Buyers are more confident but remain prudent in their bidding. The housing correction of 2008-2009 caused many homes to lose value for the first time, and that memory lingers for many buyers. Also, I believe that the stronger economic conditions and more stable real estate environment will help to strengthen the higher-end segment across all markets.

The renewed confidence in the market has encouraged more sellers to list their homes. The lack of liquidity and relatively lower home prices in 2008-2011 caused many, especially empty nesters, to delay selling their homes. I expect to see more inventory in 2015 as sellers take advantage of the better market. Despite the stronger market, pricing a home correctly continues to be the key to a successful sale.

The Bronxville area has been aided by the strong New York City market. New York City buyers are confident that they can sell their apartments, which gives them assurance when looking in Bronxville. Hopefully, there will be no negative factors (like the strengthening dollar curtailing foreign demand) that will decrease demand in New York City. High home prices, the high cost of living, and the approximately 4% New York City income tax continue to make living in Bronxville a compelling financial value relative to New York City.

The short commute and abundance of excellent educational alternatives continue to draw buyers to our area. More important, Bronxville offers a very special community and lifestyle that set us apart from other communities.

 
Susan Kelty Law: Market Value Assessments Used by Village Hall PDF Print Email

Written by Susan Kelty Law, Associate Broker, Houlihan Lawrence





 

Jan. 7, 2015: In the last eight years, the subject of market value tax assessments has been a hot-button issue for many village homeowners. Some who saw dramatic increases in their taxes as a result of the 2006-2007 reassessment fought to get them reduced, and many were successful, especially after the market decline of 2009. But this year, while many village residents will be happy to hear that median home prices have risen substantially in the last 12 months (about 9 percent for single-family homes and 22 percent for townhouses), Bronxville's market value assessment model actually mandates that those market gains be reflected in the 2015 tax rolls. 

With so many municipalities in Westchester now converting to market value assessment systems, this article attempts to review Bronxville's relatively new system and how it is evolving as market conditions improve.

According to Village Assessor Gerry Iagallo, Bronxville's new tax roll will be published by February 1, 2015. Although he cannot say which homes will see an increase in their assessments, or by how much, Iagallo is predicting an average increase of 11 percent for single-family homes, including townhouses. However, given the way the market value assessment system works, an increase in assessment does not necessarily mean that the tax paid will go up by the same 11 percent.

The good news, according to Iagallo, is that if school and village budgets stay about the same, the actual tax rate per thousand dollars of assessed value should go down because of the increased tax base (this past year's rate was $17 per $1,000 of assessed value). This means that for those who do not receive an increased assessment in 2015, if budgets are constant, their tax liability will actually be decreased.  

And for those whose assessments go up, they will not see the same percentage of increase in taxes owed. Iagallo characterized this new assessment increase as a necessary step in response to a rising market and encourages those who disagree with their assessment this year to avail themselves of the grievance process by filing objections within the prescribed two-week period before February 17, 2015. 

Market Value Assessment Background: In 2006, Bronxville converted to a fair market value approach in order to eliminate the inequities of our old assessment system. Under the old system, newer single-family homes were assessed at higher levels than many older homes with much higher market values, and these under-assessed homes held onto that benefit in perpetuity. The conversion to a fair market value system was expensive--it required the village to individually appraise the market value of each single-family property.

The new assessments were then implemented in 2007, which turned out to be the height of the market for median single-family prices in the village.

Under the current market value system, our assessor is responsible for periodically reviewing the village tax rolls with the goal of keeping assessments at 100 percent of fair market value. While some "market value" towns choose to adjust assessments on a yearly basis, Bronxville's model calls for a revolving assessment readjustment only when the "coefficient of dispersion" (the "COD," or error factor) exceeds 12 percent. The COD is essentially the differential between tax assessments and median market value prices (in the assessment world, a COD of 10 percent or lower is considered ideal).

It is notable that Bronxville is the only jurisdiction in the state that actually wrote the 12 percent COD into its assessment law as a mandate. As a result, unlike other towns that lagged behind the market on their assessment rolls, Bronxville stayed relatively current even in the downturn of 2009. That year, our village assessor took what Mayor Mary Marvin called "prophylactic action" and lowered assessed values by 7 percent across the board to reflect the declining market.

According to assessor Iagallo, while the fair market value system was initially expensive for the village to implement, in a few short years it has more than paid for itself. Since 2005, the increased accuracy of our tax rolls has decreased the number of small claims/ tax certiorari claims (which are very expensive to defend) by about 75 percent. Even coops and condos (which are assessed differently under state law as "commercial" property) have reduced the number of certiorari claims filed on those properties. This article is limited to discussion of single-family home assessments.

Current State of Our Single-Family Tax Assessment Roll: In early 2013, when Bronxville's COD on single-family homes was at 10.5 percent, one of the lowest in the county, our village trustees unanimously adopted a resolution that property values in the village be reviewed either when the COD exceeded 12 percent or, alternatively, every three years when the board thought a review would be beneficial. Pursuant to this resolution, starting in 2013 Iagallo was charged by the trustees with reviewing one-third of the village properties each year for the following three years. As a result, about one-third of village homes had their assessments re-examined last year and increased on average by about 5 percent.

This past year, however, when Iagallo started on year two of the three-year review cycle, he discovered that the still-rising real estate market had pushed the COD up above 12 percent. In order to comply with the mandate, Iagallo said that the "one-third-every-year" approach had to be discarded in favor of the assessor's taking immediate action to reduce the COD. For this reason, Iagallo and his team embarked on a review of the remaining two-thirds of single-family homes this past fall (the ones that were not increased last year). The new assessments are the ones that will be published by February 1, 2015.

While Iagallo cannot estimate at this point how many homes will see increases in their assessments in 2015, he confirmed that most of the two-thirds of single-family homes reviewed will see increases, as well as some additional homes that either underwent capital improvements or sold in 2014 for amounts higher than their assessed values. The rest will stay the same or go down. Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data show that about 85 percent of the 80 townhouses and single-family homes that sold in 2014 sold for varying amounts over their assessed values.

According to Iagallo, the expected $150,000,000 increase in assessments for 2015 translates into an increase of the current total tax base from $2.81 billion to about $2.96 billion. His aim this year is to bring the village assessment COD down to 12 percent or lower. In this way, he hopes that the assessment process can stabilize for a longer period of time.

Like so many of our village officials, assessor Iagallo is always approachable, and he encourages homeowners to ask him any questions they may have about the process. 

Pictured here: Midland Avenue headed north.

Photo by A. Warner

 
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