WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Westchester Residential Opportunities has fought for housing equality for county residents since 1968.
Nick Beilenson, the 79-year-old White Plains resident and founder of the organization, still enjoys getting people into the homes and the neighborhoods they deserve.
“I hear about it second-hand now,’’ said Beilenson, who was the agency’s executive director for six years and served as its Board Chairman until a few years ago. “It’s still very gratifying when I hear that we’ve helped people get into their homes.”
WRO, which has offices in White Plains and Mount Vernon, advocates the expansion of non-discriminatory housing opportunities in Westchester County for low- and moderate-income households, minorities, senior citizens and people with disabilities. The organization also fights to enforce Fair Housing and Lending laws.
“Westchester Residential Opportunities has really morphed into one-stop shopping,’’ Beilenson said. “Then, as it is now, Westchester was very segregated and we wanted to help African American families buy homes without discrimination. That’s still one of our primary objectives. But we also offer so much more, and help people with first-time home buying, home access for people with disabilities, senior housing and independent living. Financial literacy has been a big issue. A lot of people don’t know to develop a budget.”
Beilenson has seen progress. Affordable housing and housing discrimination are still weighty Westchester issues, however.
“The political and financial situations are not good in terms of affordable housing for low and moderate income families,’’ he said. “I have hopes that all the noise going on about Black Lives Matter and how minorities are being shortchanged will usher in a new civil rights push and an understanding among the broader population that there are serious inequalities that need to be addressed.”
When Beilenson started WRO, he said there was just one Westchester County Realtor in each community he could depend upon for fair service for minorities. There are plenty more now, but there are also others who steer clients into neighborhoods and practice unfairly.
“It’s also a lot more subtle,’’ Beilenson said. “We have a testing program provided by HUD grants where people go out and it helps find out whether the person in the protected class is getting equal treatment. But it’s a question of funding. It takes a lot of time and effort to get those grants.”
Beilenson remains active on other fronts as well. Harvard College honored him last year as the first recipient of the Outstanding Supporter of Public Service award. Beilenson, who earned his his undergraduate and law degree from Harvard, founded the school’s Center for Public Interest Careers. The organization develops summer internships, postgraduate fellowships, networks, and professional development opportunities in the public sector for Harvard College students and recent Harvard alums.
He also works for the Peter Pauper Press, a book publishing business that his father started in 1928, and is a nationally decorated squash player.
Fighting for housing equality is still the cause for which he is most passionate.
“I felt pretty strongly that I should step aside as chair and have other people on the board step up at WRO,’’ he said. “That’s worked out very well. It’s still a cause that’s very close to my heart.”
For more information about Westchester Residential Opportunities, click here to visit its website. Contact WRO at 914-428-4507 or visit the office at 470 Mamaroneck Ave. in White Plains or at The Dole Center, 250 South 6th Ave., in Mount Vernon.