Westchester County Fights To Regain $5.2 Million In Federal Housing Grants

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Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz
Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz Photo Credit: Suzanne Samin

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester County officials sent a clear message Thursday, April 24, that the county isn't giving up $5.2 million dollars in federal grants without a fight

Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz said the board will be taking a more active role to aid the county in complying with the 2009 Fair and Affordable Housing Settlement, in order to regain funds being reallocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Kaplowitz said the loss of the money would be damaging to municipalities, especially ones that were initially flagged as possibly having exclusionary zoning and worked to get off the list, such as Ossining, Peekskill and Port Chester.

According to a letter sent to the county by HUD on Wednesday, the funds will be reallocated due to the county's failure to revise its Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice to formally acknowledge that zoning codes in its municipalities could alienate Hispanic and black residents, and therefore be exclusionary. 

Additionally, it has failed to provide potential solutions for what federal monitor James Johnson deemed as exclusionary zoning during his initial analysis.

However, should the county change its ways by May 7, just two weeks from now, the funds will go back to the county.

Kaplowitz said the Board of Legislators leadership sent letters to HUD, Johnson and the county's congressional delegates requesting meetings to determine how the board could help bring the county into compliance, along with asking for an extension.

County Executive Rob Astorino has been vocally resistant to HUD's involvement in zoning and has rejected the idea that Westchester's municipalities are exclusionary.

Astorino's spokesman Ned McCormack said the county executive believes Westchester has complied with the settlement, pointing out that all 31 communities indicated by the federal monitor have identified housing projects, 402 of 750 proposed units have financing in place, and 385 have building permits, surpassing this year's obligation.

"It is unfortunate that HUD, which claims to champion the needy, is threatening to withhold funds for affordable housing," he said. "But the county is not going to turn over control of the local zoning of its six cities, 19 towns and 20 villages to bureaucrats in Washington."

"If the county's zoning was exclusionary, it wouldn't be ahead of schedule in building affordable housing units," he said. 

Kaplowitz would not assign blame to any party involved in the process, referring to the challenge as an, "opportunity to cooperate productively and work with various parties to come up with a solution." 

"Westchester isn't just the county executive. (The board) is the legislative branch, and we need to be part of this process. We are representing the 963,000 people who live here," he said. 

Despite seemingly differing opinions amongst county leaders, Kaplowitz said he does not believe the situation is unsolvable.

One idea, according to Kaplowitz, is to see if Johnson will allow the Board of Legislators to draft up an Analysis of Impediments on behalf of the county. However, he would not comment on whether the board would also be willing to accept the exclusionary housing ruling.

Westchester County previously lost $7 million in federal grants in 2011 due to failure to comply with the settlement. 

@suzannesamin

ssamin@dailyvoice.com

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The HUD folks are clueless when it comes to building in Westchester since some of the sites they have chosen have been wetlands and near our drinking water. HUD needs to reevaluate what they require since there specs and requirements don't reflect the world in 2014.

This is a classic case of a stronger party bullying a weaker one. Here, the one with all the strength in the "chips" of federal funds, HUD in Washington, is taking advantage of the one needing the "chips," local governments. Reasonable people may disagree about the merits of federally-mandated diversification of communities - but to reward municipalities or counties for accepting or not accepting the sociological philosophies of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development by withholding taxpayer dollars is intellectually corrupt and an illegitimate rigging of the federalist system. The unfortunate fact is that most residents are unaware of the controversy (never mind understanding how the rather complex system of rewards and penalties works). If more than half of the voting populace had a clue as to how an over-reaching federal government is ignoring the long-accepted (by both major political parties) New York state principle of "home rule" and destroying local zoning and planning in the process, those responsible for the entire spurious construct of minority "affordable housing" would be voted out of office at the federal, state and municipal levels.

This entire HUD interference is another example of big liberal government overreach. A total disregard for all the communities involved and the very people they purport to "help"

Affordable housing should be available in EVERY town, city, hamlet etc. and the way to do that is to LOWER TAXES, CREATE JOBS not through forced social engineering.

People of all types want and need affordable housing and should be able to find it anywhere. The lack thereof along with high taxes is a major reason young and old are leaving Westchester County and New York State.

If someone can afford to buy the house next door to me or rent an apartment in my town then I say welcome to the neighborhood. But even I can't afford to stay here any longer due to the high property taxes. I just wish I could sell my home and get out but no one wants to buy because the taxes are too high and on it goes in a never ending vicious cycle.

The answer is to drive down cost of living in Westchester and Rob Astorino has the right idea and the guts to stand up to the bullies at HUD and the county legislators that sold us out to them in the first place.

HUD and Johnson are nothing but bullies and need to be stopped. What Westchester County is required to do to comply and what HUD is demanding couldnt be further from anywhere of meeting in the middle and that blame falls on Johnson.