Housing and Urban Development has pulled more than $4 million of federal funding from approved community development block grant (CDBG) projects in Westchester after it rejected the county’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice.
The analysis, submitted by the county on July 11, was supposed to identify problems and determine solutions that would assist the county in achieving the terms of the 2009 Fair and Affordable Housing Settlement.
However, County Executive Rob Astorino said HUD officials have made demands that go beyond the terms of the settlement of developing 750 units of affordable housing within the 31 communities identified in the agreement over a seven-year period.
A May 13 letter to the county stated that the Analysis of Impediments “must address the county’s obligation to affirmatively further fair housing beyond the four corners of the settlement.“
“In the case of Westchester’s AI, HUD is using the document to renegotiate the settlement and that’s unacceptable,” said Astorino. “HUD is demanding things it has no right to ask for, that go beyond the settlement, its own guidelines, state and federal law, as well as common sense and basic economics.”
HUD recommends building at least half of the affordable housing units in the next five years to have three or more bedrooms in above average school districts near public transportation and shopping; develop a legal strategy to have municipalities make the necessary zoning changes and identify the consequences of their failure to do so and a plan of action against counter community opposition including actions by elected or appointed officials that interferes with the necessary actions of the county as identified in the AI.
“The county must include a description of its strategies to develop, support the development of, or preserve affordable housing in areas of the county that are not included in the settlement and for housing units beyond those provided for in the settlement,” HUD’s May 13 letter stated.
When HUD rejected the county’s analysis, in a letter dated July 13 it also rejected Westchester’s Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Action Plan, which provided the CDBG funding for the third-year of a three-year funding cycle. CDBG funding is a federal program that gives assistance to lower-income communities for neighborhood revitalization and improvement.
“This strong-armed tactic by HUD will cause the county to review and potentially terminate 18 jobs, which rely on the CDBG grant money for funding,” the county executive said. “Ironically, most of the people whose jobs are now at risk work on implementing the housing settlement.”
“This affects not just the 31 communities that are listed in the settlement. It includes every community that receives the CDBG funds,” said Yorktown Supervisor Susan Siegel (R-Yorktown). “The funding has been pulled for 2011 and there are communities that are already in the process of planning their projects. It does not make sense all they are doing is hurting the people they want to serve.”
“The settlement is working,” she added. “When Rob was running he was against the settlement. When County Executive Andy Spano was still in office the board voted to approve it. It is Rob’s duty to enforce the settlement and he has been doing that. He has had over 300 meetings with communities and developers to try to work things out.”
“This is going to be disastrous,” said Village of Ossining Mayor Bill Hanauer (D-Ossining), who oversees a community that is not part of the settlement. “We have street, sewer and water projects lined up. A couple of years ago HUD did the same thing. Andy Spano went and negotiated on behalf of those communities in Westchester who would be most affected by it. HUD restored the money. One can only hope that it can happen again. For those communities such as ours which are not involved in the agreement it is very cruel on their part.”
“What HUD is asking for is if the towns don’t pass the necessary ordinances in the next three months,” said North Salem Supervisor Warren Lucas (R-North Salem). “They want the county to step in and override local zoning, which is a violation of New York State Constitution.”
“It does not seem to be about the building of affordable housing anymore,” commented Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy (R-Somers). “The building of the affordable housing is being done, it seems like HUD wants to renegotiate the terms of the settlement. It is kind of like they are trying to set us up to not be able to comply.”
“The money has been stopped up for a year or two before. It will work itself out,” said County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz (D-Somers) who represents District No. 4. “The county executive is going to have to work it through with HUD.”
Nevertheless Kaplowitz agree with Astorino. “I happen to think that we at the county have been doing a good job at complying. We are ahead of schedule as far as building units and we are living within the agreement. I tend to lean toward the position of the county executive that the federal government is overreaching a little bit. I am hoping that the county executive is fighting this for the right reasons which is public policy and not simply to stir up a political issue for November.”
“The bottom line is the HUD is asking us to spend money that we don’t have, pick fights with our own municipalities, do things we have no power to do and in fact may violate the New York State Constitution, local zoning and a host of environmental laws,” Astorino said.
Westchester’s AI has been submitted five times to HUD. The county insists that the AI is a routine document that accompanies a request for federal funding and outlines obstacles to the development of fair and affordable housing choice. Prior to the 2009 settlement, HUD never rejected an AI by the county.
Astorino has a meeting scheduled with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan on July 27 in Washington. He hopes that the secretary will be able to help the county work through its impasse with HUD.
”This is the kind of Washington behavior that angers ordinary citizens. There is simply no justification for it. I am hoping that by meeting with Secretary Donovan, we can return the focus to getting affordable housing built in Westchester,” Astorino said.