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Kaplowitz: Affordable Housing Stalemate With HUD Will Be Resolved

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Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz
Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz

County legislators will take a more active role in helping Westchester comply with the affordable housing settlement after officials were informed this week the federal government could revoke an additional $5.2 million in grant money.

Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz pledged Thursday that his board colleagues would enlist the help of its congressional representatives and reach out to federal monitor James Johnson and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials to help satisfy the county’s obligation. The county must build 750 units of affordable housing by the end of 2016.

Kaplowitz’s announcement came a day after HUD sent the county a letter stating that it would reallocate $5,227,328 in Community Development Block Grants from Fiscal Year 2012 unless Westchester resolved the remaining issues pertaining to the settlement by May 9. The county already lost about $7.4 million from 2011 when it failed to pass the required source of income legislation in time.

His message was also delivered shortly after Rev. Al Sharpton arrived outside the county building in White Plains to blast County Executive Rob Astorino for attempting to sidestep the settlement agreement, costing Westchester’s less affluent communities millions in grant money that can be used for various projects.

“We will follow you everywhere until the money flows in Westchester,” Sharpton declared.

Kaplowitz, who declined to address Sharpton’s comments, said the only remaining sticking point with HUD is to have the Analysis of Impediments–a report that outlines how local zoning can prevent affordable housing from being built–submitted and approved.

Six of the 31 mostly white communities that were required to build affordable housing under the settlement are still deemed by Johnson to have zoning that is exclusionary based on race. However, Kaplowitz said that the monitor is working actively with five of those communities to resolve that issue.

“The fact that the funds are being stopped for another year is unacceptable, untenable and requires solutions,” Kaplowitz said.

“We are asking them to help us craft a legislative solution to this problem,” he continued. “We are in a logjam. It’s a situation where the county is not in compliance.”

Kaplowitz also called on HUD to extend the deadline for a “reasonable” period of time before the $5.2 million is reallocated while the county works on a solution.

Ned McCormack, Astorino’s director of communications, said HUD’s strategy of threatening to withhold millions in grant money is likely being done in an attempt to force the county to go beyond the parameters of the settlement.

Westchester remains ahead of schedule with the development of the new units, with funding currently in place for 403 affordable units while 385 building permits have been issued, McCormack said.

“We just don’t think it’s right because we’re complying with the settlement and they’re holding us to a standard that doesn’t exist,” he said.

He also said HUD is not permitted to take away funds from one program because of alleged noncompliance with a separate program.

Kaplowitz said the most unfortunate part of the dilemma is that the communities that stand to lose the grant money, such as Yonkers, Ossining, Peekskill and several others, need the money the most and are not required to build the affordable housing.

However, the chairman remained upbeat that a solution can be reached.

“I’m optimistic that the legislature will, through its efforts, will be able to bring a solution,” Kaplowitz said. “This is not an intractable problem. It’s not an unsolvable problem. This is going to take leadership. That’s what we’re here today announcing and this is going to take focus and resolve.”


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