(White Plains, NY) -- A federal magistrate made three rulings yesterday, two unfavorable and one favorable to Westchester County, that will now give County Executive Robert P. Astorino and his Administration a better understanding of how to move forward with the fair and affordable housing settlement between Westchester County and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Although the magistrate ruled that the court-appointed monitor of the housing settlement had erred when he said that Source of Income legislation needed to be signed into law, the magistrate agreed with the monitor that the Administration is required to turn over information about how the County is overseeing exclusionary zoning practices that may exist in the 31 Westchester communities affected by the fair and affordable housing settlement. In addition, the magistrate rejected the Administration’s contention that the monitor’s refusal to consider the sufficiency of the County’s Analysis of Impediments (AI) submissions was unwarranted.
“The settlement agreement gives all the parties involved opportunities to resolve differences and impasses, and the magistrate’s ruling amply illustrates this,” said Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Chairman Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “This is not a matter of one side beating another in court, or zealous overreaching by our federal partners in government—that’s a reductive way of looking at how our democracy works. Instead, we see here the importance of the judicial process in resolving disputes to allow government to move ahead and function while preventing unilateral action by either the administrative or legislative branches.”
Added Jenkins: “Westchester County still has a long way to go in terms of fulfilling all of the stipulations of the housing settlement. The magistrate has allowed the monitor’s concerns on exclusionary zoning to remain part of the evaluative process, and I’m sure other issues will come up in time. We are ahead of our schedule somewhat for building new fair and affordable housing units, which is good, but the elected leaders of Westchester have to collaborate and work together to bring the settlement to completion.”
In August 2011, the BOL called on the court-appointed monitor to help break an impasse between the Astorino Administration and HUD so that federal funding can be restored to the County. Earlier, HUD withheld $7 million in community development block grant (CDBG) funds from Westchester County because the federal agency did not feel that the Administration had addressed the county’s obligation to affirmatively further fair housing in the flawed Analysis of Impediments (AI) documents that it had submitted. The block grants had been used to employ 18 workers tasked with implementing the settlement.
The Source of Income legislation, passed by the BOL in 2010, was vetoed by the County Executive, although it could have gone into effect without his signature.
“While the Board of Legislators certainly agrees that no elected official can be forced to vote for or sign anything, a majority of my colleagues on the Board would agree that a progressive county like Westchester should not countenance discrimination by landlords against tenants who are disabled or veterans and others who are receiving housing assistance vouchers,” said BOL Vice Chairman Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon). “That is not a victory for anyone.”
Yesterday, Jenkins expressed serious concerns whether the Administration’s failure to communicate critical information to the BOL about the housing settlement was potentially sabotaging the agreement.