The Board of Legislators sent a release today announcing they submitted a response last Friday answering HUD's concerns about the county's compliance with the 2009 Fair and Affordable Housing Settlement in hopes its required annual report would finally be approved.
“I’m pleased to say that my colleagues on the Board of Legislators and those in the County Executive’s office have been able to work together in crafting a response for Westchester County,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers).
The County is required to submitted an Annual Action Plan documenting its progress on the settlement's requirements. So far, HUD officials have rejected components of the County's submitted reports as inadequate.
On July 15, County Executive Rob Astorino held a press conference expressing his frustration with the HUD process after they rejected the county's Analysis of Impediments statement for the fifth time. Astorino characterized the HUD's response as "'unprecedented bureaucratic overreaching' and 'unwarranted trampling of local zoning rights'."
to meet with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. According to a story by CBS New York, the meeting between Astorino and Donovan was brief and did not provide any significant negotiation. The story quotes Astorino saying:
“For us to have to fight local municipalities, sue them on zoning, ruin zoning, make us spend far more than anyone should, including taxpayers, that would bankrupt us. We’re not willing to go that distance, especially since it was not agreed upon.”
In a May 13 letter from HUD, which rejected the County's fifth revision of the Analysis of Impediment statement and froze $6 million in payments of a Community Development Block Grant, HUD's Community Planning and Development director Vincent Horn suggested the County should take more aggressive measures to meet the terms of the stipulation agreement.
According to press secretary Thomas Staudter, a $1.7 million HOME grant–a rental to home ownership program–and nearly $250,000 in emergency shelter fund payments have also been halted.
The letter recommended the county give municipalities three months to act upon restrictive zoning laws before using strong levers like withholding county funds or even litigation to force action.
The Board of Legislators has indicated in its response last week that litigation against local municipalities is not an option it is willing to pursue and that it agreed in principle with Astorino's position HUD should not expand or alter the terms of the stipulation agreement.
Legislator John Nonna, D-Pleasantville and chairman of the BOL Legislation Committee, was quoted in the release: “The settlement agreement provides for the monitor to mediate any disputes between the County and federal government. There will be no expansion in the terms of this agreement, and the County is unified in opposition to any modifications in the terms of this agreement.”
Nonna and a group of legislators including BOL Vice Chair Lyndon Williams, D-Mount Vernon, and BOL Minority Leader James Maisano, R-New Rochelle indicate they have secured confirmation from the court-appointed monitor that nothing in the court settlement itself required the county to sue municipalities over zoning laws.
According to the release from BOL press secretary Thomas Staudter, the County Executive's office was willing to work county legislators on a "unified response" after court-appointed housing monitor James E. Johnson indicated in September he would be willing to accept a separate statement from the body or its members regarding an impasse over the issue of a required Analysis of Impediments statement.
In accordance with the settlement, the county will have to build 750 affordable housing units in 31 Westchester communities in the next seven years. HUD is tasked with ensuring the county complies with enforcing the terms of the settlement.
In July, the county executive's office said the county had 164 affordable housing units approved for development this year, ahead of the requirement to complete 100 units by the end of 2011, with another financed 154 units, 107 with building permits in place and 102 units currently in the pipeline for local approval.
“Westchester County is a year-and-a-half ahead of schedule in implementing the housing stipulation order,” said Jenkins. “This submission reinforces that we are one Westchester.”
The Board of Legislators also agreed with County Executive Astorino's position that HUD's definition of "exclusionary zoning" was unclear and therefore difficult to adequately respond.
Though the release touts the response as proof of harmony with the County Executive on the issue of compliance with the stipulation agreement, it also jabbed at some points of contention in the unfolding of events.
According to the release, County Executive Astorino did not notify the Board of Legislators until July about the rejected AI statement though his office was told in May of the HUD decision to withhold the last payment of the Community Development Block grant which it said was for $6.41 million. Following the May letter, the county executive submitted a revised statement which was also rejected in June.
The BOL release also noted that in their response to HUD they indicated "source of income legislation was passed by the BOL, and that legislation was vetoed by the County Executive."