WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino announced Friday that his administration is at an impasse with the federal government, saying requirements laid out by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have made it economically and legally impossible to fulfill Westchester’s discriminatory housing lawsuit settlement agreement.
“We can only go so far, and we cannot allow HUD to dismantle local zoning and bankrupt our tax payers. And that is what they’re trying to do,” Astorino said. “We will not have a gun to our head to do things that are outside the settlement; that we don’t agree with and that the laws don’t make us do.”
The County Executive said HUD was illegally asking Westchester to ignore a clause in the New York State constitution which gives local municipalities the power to set zoning.
Westchester County agreed to build 750 units of affordable housing in predominantly white neighborhoods over seven years in an August 2009 lawsuit settlement made with the Anti-Discrimination Center (ADC) and federal authorities. Besides using $51.6 million to fund the housing development, the county had to pay the ADC $7.5 million. HUD rejected the county’s fifth and most recent required analysis of impediments to housing report on July 13. The federal government then retracted about $4 million in community development block grants, prompting Astorino to decide “enough is enough.”
“Unfortunately that funding that gets pulled pays for the 18 employees that are implementing the plan,” Astorino said of 18 employees facing layoffs. “They’re the ones doing most of the day to day work...So for them to take away that funding and the resources to get the job done is so counterproductive.”
The Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins released a statement Friday, saying, he found Astorino’s claims “highly disappointing.”
“The county board has legislators with wide experience in all aspects of housing development, and that has remained sadly untapped,” Jenkins said according to a press release. “The issue of non-compliance has never been raised, nor did we have any idea that his problem existed. None of the written correspondences from federal officials regarding the housing settlement that the county executive mentioned at today’s press conference has been shared with the board... We urge the Astorino administration to work with the board to develop a new approach toward meeting the goals of the housing settlement.”
HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said Astorino’s rhetoric was unproductive.
“We’ve been working for two years now to help Westchester County satisfy its legal obligations under the settlement agreement. Yet, the County continues to fall short of these obligations and shifting the conversation to HUD doesn’t change that fact,” according to an e-mail from HUD. “We’ll continue working very hard with the County, but rhetoric like this is unproductive and does not help us reach the goal of expanding fair housing choices for the residents of Westchester County.”
This story will be updated. Check back tomorrow for more details. What do you think of Astorino's announcement?