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Bickering Confirms $51.6 M Cap at Housing Settlement Forum

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The behind-the-scenes bickering of Westchester County’s $51.6 million housing settlement negotiations became prominent at a Pace Law School symposium Friday, when nearly 150 attendees listened to officials dispute the settlement's $51.6 million cap.

Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett launched into his take on the settlement by explaining his and Republican County Executive Robert Astorino’ s take on how Adolfo Carrión, the New York and New Jersey regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other federal agents were expanding the original terms of the August, 2009 agreement.

“Carrión has said publicly that it is just a down payment on the amount of money that needs to be spent on financing these 750 units,” Plunkett said of the $51.6 million. “It’s disturbing because all of us as taxpayers and people who have to pay for this settlement are not going to know what that number really is.”

Plunkett said the county executive's staff felt it was not subject to a settlement stipulation requiring the administration to promote legislation “currently” before lawmakers that banned discrimination against tenants based on where their income comes from because that bill was presented, but not passed, by legislators in 2009.

Legislator Judith Myers (D- Larchmont) read aloud a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, which she said capped Westchester’s spending on building the required 750 units of affordable housing in 31 predominately white communities at $51.6 million.

James Johnson, the court-appointed monitor , claimed he has final authority on the matter and will limit Westchester’s financing of the plan to $51.6 million unless the county fails to meet deadlines. If that is the case, he has the option of fining Westchester $30,000 a day.

Westchester politicians spent most of the symposium emphasizing that the county was a year ahead of the schedule laid out by the settlement, which dictates that the county must develop the 750 units within seven years. According to Astorino, Westchester has 206 units approved by the monitor, 182 homes with financing, 108 of which have building permits.

Various non-profit advocacy groups and HUD Assistant Secretary John Trasviña criticized statistics from Astorino’s administration, including ones that cited Westchester and Manhattan as sharing the title of being New York’s fourth most diverse county.

“There is diversity here, but when we’re driving throughout, seeing different parts, you have to say, ‘Am I still in the same county?'" said Trasviña. “We were at a place that was in Rye, but the sidewalk and the street were in Port Chester. And if you’re living there, from what I can tell, if you’re going to shop, you’re going to shop in Port Chester. We have missed some opportunities but then we still have time and we have the obligation to fulfill every aspect of this settlement agreement and as we move forward.”

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