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Federal Housing Agency Says Westchester May Not Administer Sandy Funds

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Westchester County executive has not complied with a fair housing agreement from 2009. Now, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says the county may not receive Superstorm Sandy disaster-relief money directly.  

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino was in violation of failing to promote so-called Source of Income legislation as part of the county’s fair and affordable housing settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. The 2009 agreement ended a discrimination lawsuit that could have cost the county more than $100 million. Astorino released a statement saying his objection to Source of Income legislation is turning the Section 8 voluntary program concerning vouchers to supplement the rent of low-income residents into a mandatory program. The County Board of Legislators chairman is urging Astorino to comply or risk upending the settlement and putting the county at financial risk.

Lyndon Williams, a Democrat, is vice chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. He accuses the county executive of political grandstanding.

And now there is a consequence – Superstorm Sandy disaster-relief money. Westchester County, which was recently included among the most impacted and distressed counties, will receive the funding, it just will not be permitted to manage and disburse the funding. That’s according to a letter sent to a New York State official by Yolanda Chavez, deputy assistant secretary for grant programs for HUD. The letter says that given ongoing civil rights noncompliance by Westchester County, the state should not grant disaster-recovery funds to the county itself to administer, yet the state may  expend community development block grant disaster-relief funds to address disaster recovery needs within the county. Again, here’s Legislator Williams.

A spokesman for County Executive Astorino says his office was unaware of the letter until given it by a reporter. He says, quote, “There is no basis for HUD to be playing politics with disaster relief funds. Frankly, it is unconscionable for HUD to bring unsupported allegations of civil rights violations into the disbursement of emergency relief for Hurricane Sandy victims.” End of quote.

Lyndon Williams represents Mount Vernon, a city in lower Westchester hit hard by Sandy. He says disaster funds would go toward repairing roads and other infrastructure, as well as helping businesses get back on track.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey, whose district includes portions of Westchester County, and who is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, two weeks ago announced that Westchester had been awarded more than $2.7 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for Superstorm Sandy relief. Lowey’s spokesman says Lowey’s staff is aware of the letter, but has no comment at this time.

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