WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester County officials sent a clear message Thursday, April 24, that the county isn't giving up $5.2 million dollars in federal grants without a fight
Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz said the board will be taking a more active role to aid the county in complying with the 2009 Fair and Affordable Housing Settlement, in order to regain funds being reallocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Kaplowitz said the loss of the money would be damaging to municipalities, especially ones that were initially flagged as possibly having exclusionary zoning and worked to get off the list, such as Ossining, Peekskill and Port Chester.
According to a letter sent to the county by HUD on Wednesday, the funds will be reallocated due to the county's failure to revise its Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice to formally acknowledge that zoning codes in its municipalities could alienate Hispanic and black residents, and therefore be exclusionary.
Additionally, it has failed to provide potential solutions for what federal monitor James Johnson deemed as exclusionary zoning during his initial analysis.
However, should the county change its ways by May 7, just two weeks from now, the funds will go back to the county.
Kaplowitz said the Board of Legislators leadership sent letters to HUD, Johnson and the county's congressional delegates requesting meetings to determine how the board could help bring the county into compliance, along with asking for an extension.
County Executive Rob Astorino has been vocally resistant to HUD's involvement in zoning and has rejected the idea that Westchester's municipalities are exclusionary.
Astorino's spokesman Ned McCormack said the county executive believes Westchester has complied with the settlement, pointing out that all 31 communities indicated by the federal monitor have identified housing projects, 402 of 750 proposed units have financing in place, and 385 have building permits, surpassing this year's obligation.
"It is unfortunate that HUD, which claims to champion the needy, is threatening to withhold funds for affordable housing," he said. "But the county is not going to turn over control of the local zoning of its six cities, 19 towns and 20 villages to bureaucrats in Washington."
"If the county's zoning was exclusionary, it wouldn't be ahead of schedule in building affordable housing units," he said.
Kaplowitz would not assign blame to any party involved in the process, referring to the challenge as an, "opportunity to cooperate productively and work with various parties to come up with a solution."
"Westchester isn't just the county executive. (The board) is the legislative branch, and we need to be part of this process. We are representing the 963,000 people who live here," he said.
Despite seemingly differing opinions amongst county leaders, Kaplowitz said he does not believe the situation is unsolvable.
One idea, according to Kaplowitz, is to see if Johnson will allow the Board of Legislators to draft up an Analysis of Impediments on behalf of the county. However, he would not comment on whether the board would also be willing to accept the exclusionary housing ruling.
Westchester County previously lost $7 million in federal grants in 2011 due to failure to comply with the settlement.