Thursday, January 26, 2017
As both a Mexican immigrant and a community organizer with the Sustainable Port Chester Alliance, I write to say that racial and immigrant justice includes housing justice. If the United Hospital project does not include real workforce housing — and not just 26 units — many members of the Board of Trustees will have failed the same immigrant families they claim to represent and support.
To explain, allow me to point you to the Illegal Dwelling/Overcrowding Complaint Report published by the Village’s Department of Code Enforcement. This report documents complaints of overcrowded housing in Port Chester. It tells story after story of immigrant families forced to crowd into unsafe attics and basements because there is little other housing available to them.
The kinds of families that must squeeze themselves into illegal attic and basement apartments are exactly the people that the Mayor and some of the Trustees claim to welcome to our village. In fact, they’ve supported them by passing resolutions like the recent one requesting that our state legislators pass a bill expanding immigrant access to driver’s licenses. Meanwhile, they are also trying to foster a local economy based around the attractiveness of Port Chester’s predominantly Latino dining scene. That is an effort that is overwhelmingly dependent upon the hard work of immigrant families like the ones whose living situations are documented in the Illegal Dwelling/Overcrowding Complaint Report.
Now, we highly applaud the Board’s measures to welcome these families to Port Chester. The Sustainable Port Chester Alliance stands firmly behind any and all efforts to make Port Chester a safe haven for immigrant families. But the fact is, until the Board makes a concerted effort to ensure Port Chester can house them, the Mayor and Trustees are only halfway supporting these families. They are welcoming immigrant families to our community but then relegating them to the worst, most overcrowded and unsafe housing.
We expect this from at least one member of the Board. But we expect much better from the rest of them. We expect the Mayor and these Trustees to stand behind immigrant families all the way, not just halfway. With the United Hospital project, the Mayor and Trustees have an excellent opportunity to show that they support immigrant families all the way and want to ensure that Port Chester has housing that families like mine can afford. We encourage the Board to make the most of this opportunity by ensuring that the United Hospital redevelopment includes 146 units of workforce housing priced for families at various income levels — including levels appropriate for police, firefighters and teachers.
To be clear, we are not talking about housing that must be subsidized by the Village. Workforce housing at the United Hospital may qualify for various state and federal subsidy programs, but it would not add a line to the Village budget.
History has shown again and again that building more housing that working families can afford is the only practical, humane solution to home overcrowding. If the Board doesn’t take action on this issue, immigrant families like mine may get our driver’s licenses just in time to load up a U-Haul with all our belongings and drive right out of Port Chester in search of housing that we can afford.
Zeltzyn Sanchez is a member of Sustainable Port Chester Alliance.