Case Studies

Orlando Marin – Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County 

Nurturing the Great American Dream in NYC, Westchester 

The great American dream of home ownership needs nurturing, especially in the most urbanized areas where buildable land is scarce and expensive, but residents still want a place to call their own. Here in New York City and parts of Westchester County, Habitat for Humanity NYC and Westchester strives to make that possible, logistical and funding challenges notwithstanding. 

Orlando Marin  | Vice President, Real Estate and Construction | Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County 

Orlando Marin  | Vice President, Real Estate and Construction | Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County

Habitat NYC and Westchester has overcome many of those challenges and has developed the largest housing cooperative built by any of its affiliates. Sydney House, developed in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, consists of 26 one-bedroom units, 23 two-bedroom units and seven three-bedroom units, as well as 2,000 square feet of shared recreational and community facility space.  

Further development plans include another ambitious project slated for Brooklyn known as Mosaic. Mosaic will consist of 11 buildings in Brownsville and will consist of 44 cooperative dwelling units. Also in Brooklyn, Habitat will soon be closing on the aptly named Constellation development, consisting of seven buildings with 77 cooperative dwelling units. It’s a work long in progress, Habitat having won a city-issued RFP in 2016. Neighboring access agreements and other title matters will be addressed and resolved before closing.  In the Bronx, Habitat is pursuing a zoning change to allow more units to be built at Claremont House, another City awarded RFP development site 

All counted, Habitat’s development pipeline anticipates more than 200 units planned for New York City, and the man charged with fronting the projects reminds that this is indeed a marathon rather than a sprint. 

“It takes a lot of patience and careful scheduling,” says Orlando Marin, a born-and-bred Bronxite who’s soon to celebrate a very eventful sixth anniversary as the local Habitat’s Vice President of Real Estate and Construction as well as his 13th year as a commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission.  

“This isn’t Florida or Texas, where you have the luxury of open land to develop, and you can develop 60 houses in a two -year development timeframe. But adequate housing is an essential part of life, and a crucial piece for people to feel like they’re part of society and have achieved a part of the great American dream of homeownership.” 

Overcoming obstacles 

Even with forces supporting Habitat’s mission, Marin says it takes some doing to bring a project to fruition. Public agencies will issue RFPs for development, with Habitat responding to RFPs and winning six on his watch. RFPs vary and both rental and homeownership options are considered.  Where a development requests both scenarios, Habitat’s extensive experience with developing affordable homeownership is essential to the overall development RFP response.     

Orlando Marin  | Vice President, Real Estate and Construction | Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County 

Then there are the smaller projects that add to the success of affordable homeownership, such as the accessory dwelling unit program or ADU. Whereas the state has approved ADUs as a general concept, such units are subject to local regulation, and Marin says Habitat is negotiating with four towns to allow for ADU’s to be developed within the respective municipality.  

For instance, the Westchester Village of Hastings doesn’t allow standalone ADUs—each must be on a lower level with a separate entrance not visible from the street. The more affluent Westchester town of Bedford has even stricter rules.  These are some challenges presented for consideration on any given day. 

And it’s not just about constructing or refurbishing residential units for sale. Habitat’s mission has evolved since its founding in Georgia by the late Millard Fuller and his wife Linda during the mid-1970s. In Westchester County, Marin oversees the Aging-In-Place program that includes the installation of walk-in showers and grab bars, for example.  The concept is that seniors can stay in the home that they have lived in for many years. 

Then there’s money the state has allocated to Habitat and other NGOs since the Category 4 Hurricane Ida wracked the Eastern Seaboard in 2021. Habitat’s been working with homeowners whose properties were damaged or destroyed and erecting protective windows and barriers against the next storm. Marin is warning us there’ll always be a next storm. 

Nothing’s ever that cool and calm regarding Habitat’s agenda. But Marin’s committed to it, he proudly saying it’s the only NGO promoting home ownership while making the most of its finances and whatever discretionary funds and subsidies it can garner from public sources. 

There’s an unmet need here, he emphasizes during an emotional interview with Blueprint. According to Marin, everyone gains from having a home to call their own.  

Workforce housing 

That’s the term Marin prefers for affordable housing. The Big Apple, like every other community, needs firefighters and teachers, and while a couple’s combined income might suffice in other places, it could take years for them to save for a down payment in these parts.  

Orlando Marin  | Vice President, Real Estate and Construction | Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County 

“I understand fear, but there’s so much misunderstanding,” Marin says. “People equate affordable housing with shelters and supportive housing, but these aren’t shelters nor supportive housing. We develop affordable homeownership which stabilizes communities and compliments the various housing types that constitute urban neighborhoods. It’s also a way to integrate people so they can  live and work together in the very same community.” 

He talks from experience, Marin one of three sons from a Bronx family of very modest means and his social conscience shaped by what he observed as a teenager during the mid-and late 1970s. Perhaps you’ve seen Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam,” and Marin says it’s not all hyperbole—New York City truly was in dystopian disarray from causes that included a serial killer, rampant crime in general, garbage strike, looting, blackouts and what-not. The sentiment was further expressed in a Rolling Stones song, “Shattered.” 

“As a 13-year-old in 1977, I could look out our NYCHA tenement window and see buildings burning,” Marin recalls. “Landlords were burning their buildings just to collect the insurance, destabilizing communities and decimating homes for many Bronxites.”    

Somehow the young Marin, unlike so many of his contemporaries, rose above that, scraping the means to study architecture at the New York Institute of Technology and being hired at a few firms. Only his bosses had him drafting bathroom and kitchen renovations, which had Marin broadening his skillset by acquiring a real estate license and turning his focus to public service. 

He logged nearly 12 years as director of Design and Construction for the New York City Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that joins public agencies and private developers in creating affordable housing. He helped guide a neighborhood improvement association and in 2011 began his ongoing service as a Commissioner of the NYC Planning Commission. He assumed his roles at Habitat in May 2018, and while it sometimes conflicts with his responsibilities as a planning commissioner, Marin says he is guided accordingly by the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board and knows when to recuse himself from actions that may be presented that would require him to do so. 

But, he says, there’s no recusing in his commitment to housing, and with Habitat, the emphasis is providing for-sale affordable housing.     

Orlando Marin  | Vice President, Real Estate and Construction | Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County 

Now 60, Marin remains in The Bronx, near where his mother and two brothers live.  

“I know every corner,” he says. 

He credits that mix of streetwise insight and professional credentials for enhancing his effectiveness as a housing advocate and giving him empathy for those now shut out of the market. And how youngsters might benefit from living in a building whose residents include young professionals. 

“Kids see someone looking dapper and dedicated to the work that they doand it inspires them to be successful,” he says. “It worked for me.”  

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