The Examiner

Astorino Blasts Federal Gov’t on Affordable Housing Contempt Charge

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County Executive Rob Astorino went on the offensive against the federal government on Friday by slamming its assertion that Westchester County failed to meet its 2014 obligations in the controversial 2009 affordable housing settlement.

Holding a press conference outside the gate of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s residence on Old House Road in Chappaqua, Astorino charged that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice have continually questioned the county’s commitment to the settlement despite complying with all milestones that had been established nearly six years ago.

Astorino also lambasted the government for its continued allegations that Westchester is guilty of perpetuating housing discrimination.

“I’m here to strongly refute that charge and warn that the federal government’s assault on Westchester is just the opening salvo and it’s coming to a neighborhood near you wherever you live in this country,” Astorino said. “What’s at stake is who controls the future of our towns, our villages and our cities across the nation – the people who actually live in the unelected bureaucrats working out of cubicles in Washington, D.C.?”

At the close of his comments, the county executive rang the Clintons’ buzzer on their property’s security system in hopes of speaking to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential hopeful, and asking her where she stood on the issue. Security detail took his phone number and said the former U.S. senator and secretary of state would call Astorino.

“Does she think she lives in a discriminatory town? I don’t,” he said. “Does she think the Obama Administration is being unfair in attacking her own community? I do. But we need to know where Hillary Clinton stands on this issue and she needs to speak up today.”

Astorino’s comments came three days after Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kennedy filed documents in federal court in White Plains asking the court to impose various penalties against the county for being in contempt of the settlement. Kennedy asked that Westchester establish an escrow fund of more than $1.65 million and fines of $30,000 for January and $60,000 a month for each additional month until the county is in compliance. It has until the end of the year to comply.

The government’s court action centers around the 28-unit Chappaqua Station affordable housing project proposed for Hunts Lane based on a report issued in May by federal monitor James Johnson.

Calling the county’s latest violation “serious and unmistakable,” the court papers state that credit toward the county’s funding approval for the 28 units late last year should not have counted toward Westchester’s Dec. 31, 2014, benchmark because state Board of Review fire code variances as well as building permits had not been issued.

Under the housing settlement, Westchester needed to have funding approved for 450 units by the end of last year. The money that the Board of Legislators overwhelmingly approved for the project gave the county 454 units.

Westchester  is required to build 750 new units of affordable housing by the end of next year.

The 38-page filing also stated that the county failed to do its part to quell community opposition in New Castle against the project, which has contributed to its delay. The previous town board approved the project pending all other agency approvals.

In addition to the monetary fines, the government is asking the court to force Westchester County to post a letter on its own website stating support for Chappaqua Station, have that letter published in a future Sunday edition of The Journal News and keep tabs on New Castle with monthly letters to monitor the project’s progress.

New Castle Supervisor Robert Greenstein, who campaigned against Chappaqua Station in 2013, said Friday that developer Conifer Realty paid its building inspection fees earlier this month and awaits a decision to receive its building permit. Because of the extensive approvals needed, the project has taken a long time, he said.

“We have done nothing to impede this project,” Greenstein said. “I don’t understand what else they want us to do.”

Astorino said the county had checked with Johnson last December regarding Chappaqua Station because it needed approvals from the state Board of Review and easements from the MTA due to its close proximity to the Metro-North railroad. The county’s vote last year demonstrates its supports for Chappaqua Station but Astorino said it is not going to limit citizens’ First Amendment rights if they oppose the project.

Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) said the process the county followed for the funding approval was no different than for the other affordable housing projects.

He said the federal government is off base for now making Chappaqua Station an issue nearly eight months after the vote, but he also criticized Astorino for unnecessarily antagonizing the federal government by failing to have an acceptable Analysis of Impediments approved and by not ensuring that the 31 mostly white municipalities named in the settlement have passed a model ordinance.

“This has everything to do with the county executive and the County of Westchester and the federal government complying with both the spirit and the law of the 2009 settlement and I’m urging and hoping that all parties once again sit down at the table to come up with some solutions in a negotiated fashion,” Kaplowitz said. “This endless litigation and fighting in the court of public opinion, and then it ultimately winds up in the court of law, does nothing but waste time, money, resources and sap our energy.”

Astorino vowed to fight the issue in court to protect the county.

“We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, but threats, litigation, that’s not going to help the process,” Astorino said. “That’s going to stop the process and make it harder for us to build affordable housing.”



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