News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
There are plenty of people who would like to see all residents have a decent and affordable place to live.
For more than 50 years, Nick Beilenson didn’t just hope it would happen, he dedicated his life toward that goal.
Last Thursday, the City of White Plains posthumously honored Beilenson with a ceremonial street renaming at the corner of Mamaroneck Avenue and Shapham Place, a few doors from the offices of Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO), a nonprofit organization he established in 1968 when relatively few people in the county recognized the need for equal access and affordability.
After a brief ceremony, city officials, family members and representatives of WRO uncovered the sign recognizing the intersection as Nick Beilenson Way.
“What makes White Plains White Plains, is people who view this as more than just a place to live, they view this as a community they have a responsibility for and they have a love for,” Mayor Tom Roach said. “I’m looking at a bunch of them right now and Nick Beilenson was absolutely one of them. He put other people’s interests ahead of his own and got satisfaction in life for making things better for those who need the help.”
In February, Beilenson died from complications from COVID-19 at the age of 85. But for nearly 54 years, he worked to rid Westchester of segregation and make the county more affordable. Originally a New York City corporate attorney, Beilenson left that position to launch WRO after being inspired by the civil rights movement in the 1960s, said Larry Beilenson, one of his three children.
Larry Beilenson said his father wondered what he could do to help others, and through his legal practice had worked with the Urban League and had some familiarity with housing issues.
Just about 10 days before the ceremony, Beilenson said he was contacted that the city was going to be honoring his father.
“We couldn’t be more proud of our father and his legacy and how it reflects on us and everyone here,” he said. “It really is an incredibly moving tribute,” Beilenson said.
WRO Executive Director Marlene Zarfes said the street naming was a fitting honor to a man everyone respected. Now, every time the staff at the organization park their cars in the Shapham Place lot, they will see Beilenson’s name on the sign.
While in the late 1960s, the organization concentrated its efforts on equal access for all and affordability, today it works on almost any housing-related issue, including foreclosure and eviction protection, helping first-time homebuyers and many other matters, Zarfes said.
Advances have been made over the past half-century but struggles remain, she said.
“There has been progress, starting with the Fair Housing Act in 1968,” Zarfes said. “But it’s there. It’s two steps forward, one step back. There’s still a need for fair housing. We still have some discrimination across all the protected classes and we need accessible housing. So many people with disabilities have no place to live or have no place where they should be able to live that’s affordable.”
Roach said there is no doubt that Beilenson left his mark on White Plains and the county and left a legacy to aspire to.
“A lot of what we do in this world boils down to what we leave behind, and boy, oh boy, did he leave a lot of great things behind,” Roach said.