James Killoran sat at the edge of a chair inside his New Rochelle office. He wore a neon green baseball cap and talked animatedly about the state of the housing market in the county, an issue that is close to his heart as the CEO and executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester.
“The American Dream is not alive and well in Westchester,” Killoran said. “We’re in a crisis.”
On the desk in front of him sat a pile of insulation made from recycled denim. Along the walls of his office are blackboard schedules of the dozens of volunteers who plan to work on the organization’s various housing projects across the county in the coming weeks. Photos and plaque cover nearly every available space on the adjoining walls, documenting decades of successes for the Westchester organization.
“It’s our 30th anniversary and we’ve only just begun,” he said.
Killoran said there’s an ongoing mass migration out of New York, something his organization hopes to address.
“That’s where we have to help,” he said. “We have a moral imperative to help.”
Roughly 190,508 residents left New York for other states during the year ending last July 1, pushing the state’s total net loss to more than 1 million people since 2010, according to U.S. Census data and Empire Center for Public Policy Inc., a think tank based in Albany.
“Affordable rentals is not the answer,” Killoran said. “That is not creating long-term New Yorkers.”
Instead, Killoran believes the answer lies in home ownership.
“They can live here and have their grandkids live here,” he said, adding that home ownership can improve residents’ quality of life, along with helping form stronger connections to the community.
Today, the organization is working on 10 housing or condominium construction projects in the county. In Yonkers, volunteers are working to fix up dilapidated brick homes along Moquette Row off Nepperhan Avenue, while plans are in the works to build an affordable home in Mount Vernon out of a shipping container.
“We are the barn-raisers of yesteryear,” he said.
But for Killoran, the organization’s mission is about more than just building affordable homes. It’s about building communities.
Killoran and his “army” of volunteers have completed a range of other projects in Westchester, from painting abandoned schools to street cleanups to veterans outreach work.
One of the slogans of the Westchester chapter is “N.M.U.” or “No More Ugly,” a goal Killoran has for the entire county.
“I’ve pulled bullets out of these neighborhoods, and now they’re beautiful. They’re changing,” he said. “I know where the broken lights are, where the broken windows are, and we go in and we change it.”
In New Rochelle, Killoran’s office is in the rear of the organization’s ReStore at 659 Main Street. The ReStore is a home improvement haven that relies on donations from both businesses and individuals. Companies including Lowe’s, Sears, Home Depot and a number of area developers have donated tons of building materials to the ReStore. The store offers new and used items, from furniture and appliances to home accessories and building materials, and proceeds are used to support the organization’s work both in Westchester County and across the globe.
Recent donations have included 20 pallets of brand new tiles and 150 new window frames.
“You never know what you’re going to find here,” one shopper said during a recent visit.
The ReStore comprises three adjoining storefronts along the city’s Main Street. One offers larger pieces, like bed frames and rugs. Another features smaller household items, like kitchen appliances and decor, while the third is an art gallery a variety of paintings and artwork.
“Nothing stays longer than a month,” Killoran said of the store’s for-sale items.
The ReStore has also been a resource for the county’s burgeoning film industry. Killoran said he’s made relationships with a number of film industry players who source materials that are later used on the sets of television shows and movies.
“They love this place, because it’s so affordable,” Killoran said.
After operating at a number of locations over the years, from New Rochelle to Mount Vernon, The ReStore has called the three storefronts along Main Street home for the past five years. In the future, Killoran hopes to open ReStores in other sections of the county.
In light of the organization’s 30-year anniversary celebration, Habitat is hosting a series of events this year, including a recent Appraisers Roadshow held in May, which brought locals to the ReStore in hopes of valuing their own treasures. The organization plans to host an American Dream luncheon in June, thanking those who have “helped make the American Dream possible” for those in Westchester.
“For 30 years, we have been a turtle slowly winning the race, from Larchmont to Chappaqua, Yorktown to Yonkers, and Mount Vernon to Mount Kisco,” he said. “Habitat is spreading now more than ever. The excitement is