Astorino: Westchester Has Spent $82M on Fair Housing Case
John Jordan | December 28, 2016
WHITE PLAINS—As expected, Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino reported that the county had surpassed the court-mandated fair housing development benchmark of having financing in place and/or building permits issued for 750 units of affordable housing in 31 communities by the end of 2016.
Astorino at a Dec. 27th press conference at the Michaelian Office Building in White Plains said the county had 790 units with financing or building permits— 40 units more than required per a 2009 settlement reached with the U.S. Justice Department. He added that the county has another 100 affordable housing units in the pipeline.
The Republican County Executive told Real Estate In-Depth earlier this month in an exclusive interview that the county fully expected to meet the 750-unit benchmark by the end of this year. If the county failed to reach the benchmark, it could have been subject to fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, county officials stated. Astorino at the press conference reiterated what he recently told the newspaper that he believes with only “peripheral issues” left to address, he is hopeful that the U.S. Justice Department and the federal court will soon agree to bring the litigation to a close.
At the press conference, County Executive Astorino revealed that Westchester has thus far spent about $30 million above the $51.6-million agreed to in the settlement, or approximately $82 million. In addition, the county has leveraged more than $152 million in other public funding, which puts total public subsidies in connection with the development of the more than 750 fair and affordable housing units at $233 million and the average taxpayer subsidy per settlement unit at approximately $290,000.
Approximately 400 of the settlement units are already occupied, with about one third as homeownership and two-thirds as rentals. Data from the applications show 35% of the households applying for the county’s units were identified as white, 35% as African-American, 3% as Asian, 8% as multi-racial and 29% as Hispanic.
Astorino began the press conference by saying, “Today is a very proud day for Westchester. We have shown that Westchester is a very welcoming community, a place that meets its obligations, and a county that can successfully and firmly stand up to an overzealous and over-aggressive federal government on behalf of our cities, towns and villages.”
Since the settlement was reached in 2009, Westchester County and HUD have been at odds over a number of issues including the marketing of the fair housing units and the county’s role in eliminating cases of what HUD had determined as exclusionary zoning. In addition to HUD, the county has also had its run-ins with court-appointed Housing Monitor James Johnson, who resigned from the post in August when he announced he was running for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New Jersey. Astorino stressed that the county has not found any evidence of exclusionary zoning in any community in Westchester.
“We had to fulfill our obligations within seven years, and we exceeded them,” Astorino said. “We met our goals because we worked cooperatively with our cities, towns and villages. That approach allowed us to succeed and push back attempts by the federal government to bypass home rule and take over local zoning.”
Astorino told reporters that the county through an outside consultant is preparing its ninth “Analysis of Impediments” to fair and affordable housing in Westchester for approval by HUD and the federal court. HUD has previously rejected all eight AIs summited by Westchester County. He said the report is expected to be completed in January. He did not say whether the report would be issued before or after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
He did say that he plans to discuss the fair housing case with HUD Secretary nominee Dr. Ben Carson once he officially is on the job.
Another “peripheral issue” to be addressed is HUD’s contention that the county has not properly marketed the affordable housing program. According to the county, Westchester has spent more than $1 million on marketing and outreach, well above the $400,000 required in the settlement.
With the development benchmark achieved, the county has informed the U.S. Attorney that it doesn’t think it is necessary for HUD to appoint a new monitor to replace Johnson. If such a replacement were to be named, the county believes the selection should be made by the incoming Trump administration.
Astorino was highly critical of Johnson as housing monitor and also gave little credit to the federal fair housing litigation, saying that he believes that the 750 affordable units would have been built without a court mandate since his and previous administrations have built a considerable number of affordable housing units. Johnson could not be reached for comment at press time.
Since 2010, the county has also approved more than $5 million in funding to support over 400 non-settlement affordable housing units, which are located in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Ossining Village and White Plains. The county’s Industrial Development Agency has also provided millions of dollars in financial incentives to support more than 800 affordable housing units, which are located in a number of municipalities, including Hastings on Hudson, Mamaroneck, Mount Vernon, Rye and Scarsdale.