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Federal Housing Monitor Recommends Suing Seven Westchester Communities

Federal Housing Monitor James Johnson (far end of table) at a meeting with the Westchester County Board of Legislators. In his latest report issued Friday, Johnson recommends legal action against seven Westchester communities over its zoning laws.
Federal Housing Monitor James Johnson (far end of table) at a meeting with the Westchester County Board of Legislators. In his latest report issued Friday, Johnson recommends legal action against seven Westchester communities over its zoning laws. Photo Credit: Daily Voice file

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A federal housing monitor recommends that the U.S. Justice Department sue seven communities in Westchester, county officials said on Monday.

James Johnson, the monitor assigned to the 2009 affordable housing settlement between Westchester County and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In his “Third Biennial Assessment” of the housing settlement, which was released on Friday, Johnson conceded that the county has met its latest annual benchmarks for developing affordable housing.

Nevertheless, Johnson asserted that Croton-on-Hudson, Harrison, Lewisboro, Pelham Manor, Larchmont, North Castle and Rye Brook have “zoning that could result in liability” and that “the Department of Justice is encouraged to give serious consideration to bringing legal action against one or more of these municipalities.”

In a press statement, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said the latest recommendation by the monitor is more confirmation of the county’s predictions of federal overreach stripping away local control of zoning and land use decisions.

“The level of overreach is breathtaking,” Astorino said. "Westchester is in compliance with the settlement and will continue to defend its communities against this unprecedented overreach.”

In a September 2015 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals said that “there has been no finding, at any point, that Westchester actually engaged in housing discrimination.”

Under the terms of the 2009 settlement reached between HUD and county government, Westchester is required to spend at least $51.6 million to develop 750 units of affordable housing by the end of this yeat in 31 mostly white communities based on 2000 census data.

In his recent State of the County Address, Astorino said: “I really believe HUD does not want us to build the 750 units on time.”

The county executive warned that the federal government wants to tie up the county with legal maneuvers. “Once in court, stay in court. And that’s HUD’s end game: a settlement that never ends,” he said.

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