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Fair Housing Settlement In Westchester Hits Another Wall

Courtesy of the Westchester Board of Legislators

Westchester County stands to lose more than $5 million dollars in grants if it does not submit zoning documents to the federal government. It’s the latest in a standoff between the county executive and the agency stemming from a 2009 affordable housing settlement.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has set a September 15 deadline for Westchester County officials to submit a zoning analysis or else forego $5.2 million in Community Development Block Grants. County Board of Legislators Democratic Chairman Michael Kaplowitz says he asked Republican County Executive Rob Astorino to file what HUD deems an acceptable Analysis of Impediments. Astorino declined.

“Well, Chairman Kaplowitz is asking us as a county to give up all of our rights, put all of these communities in jeopardy now and in the future,” says Astorino. “And it’s not something I’m willing to do to give up local zoning rights and land-use decisions to the feds, in perpetuity basically, because they’re always going to be watching.”

Kaplowitz says the CDBG funds will be reallocated by the end of the month if the county executive does not act.

“I respect his point of view. I don’t agree with it, but we have to go from here, so what now,” Kaplowitz says. “What we have to do at this point is continue legislatively the good dialogue that’s occurred between HUD, and the monitor, the Justice Department and Westchester County. We also have to ultimately win the war and that means that we have to ultimately file an acceptable Analysis of Impediments. And legislatively I’m looking forward to the various towns, the six of them, meeting with, talking with the monitor, and making any small, minor modifications necessary to their zoning laws and removing them from this problematic list.”

Kaplowitz notes legislators earlier this week met with the federal monitor overseeing the affordable housing settlement about the new HUD report, which names the six towns as showing evidence of exclusionary zoning. The six towns are named based on a so-called Huntington Analysis. The newly-named towns are Harrison, Larchmont, Lewisboro, North Castle, Pelham Manor, and Rye Brook. Republican John Testa is minority leader of the county’s board of legislators. He supports Astorino’s stance.

“We’re concerned on the GOP caucus that the bar seems to be moved continuously by HUD,” says Testa. “An agreement was made, a process was agreed to, a methodology was agreed to.”

A HUD spokesman did not respond in time for this broadcast. The filing of an Analysis of Impediments acceptable to HUD is a requirement of the 2009 fair and affordable housing settlement. As for potentially losing more funding, Astorino says:

“It’s not worth a dollar or a billion dollars to give up local control over our own land use and neighborhoods to the federal government,” Astorino says. “That’s what we’re fighting here.”

It’s not the first time the county would lose millions in grants because of non-compliance with settlement requirements. The county lost $7.2 million in CDGB funds last year because of a disagreement between Astorino and HUD over the settlement terms.

Kaplowitz says he does not have the 12 votes needed to counter the county executive, but thinks he could build toward that.

“As the monitor did the analysis that the county executive refused to do, I believe that the communities in working with the monitor will free us up as a legislature to do what we have to do,” says Kaplowitz. “And if the county executive continues to remonstrate and persist in opposition, we have legislative ways of going around. We just can’t do that at this time because it’s so, we were on the cusp of this deadline and there’s more, there’s a lot of discussion that has to take place between these towns and the monitor before we then have a clear path of victory for a legislative solution.”

Kaplowitz is not ruling out a reopening of the entire settlement if federal powers deem the county to continue to be out of compliance with the settlement agreement.

“You’re looking at a chasm that’s pretty dark and pretty deep,” says Kaplowitz. “And I was trying to forestall that.”

Astorino, who is running for governor against former HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo, says HUD is already reopening the settlement.

“They’re trying to put new terms in the settlement and force us to do things right now that are not in the agreement, and this is one of them,” says Astorino. “They went on their own, the monitor, to try to rewrite a whole Analysis of Impediments, which is strictly under the authority and responsibility of the county. And for the monitor to come up and do his own work with his own people using bad data and wrong conclusions, and to try to force us to submit that is not what I’m going to stand for.”

The 2009 fair and affordable housing settlement was reached under then-Democratic County Executive Andrew Spano and HUD.

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