Greenburgh looks to bypass Westchester in applying for funds
Greenburgh’s town supervisor wants the town to form its own consortium to apply for community development block grants after seeing millions of dollars in funding lost due to wrangling between the federal and county governments.
The federal government has reallocated $7.4 million and is likely to take away another $5.2 million unless Westchester County complies with the terms of a 2009 affordable housing settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In that suit, Westchester agreed to pay $50 million and build or obtain 750 affordable housing units in 31 of its least racially diverse communities.
Paul Feiner, the Democratic supervisor of Greenburgh, said the town wasn’t part of that suit but has voluntarily built its own housing. “Even though we’re in compliance, we’re being penalized,” Feiner said.
Westchester government has traditionally applied for Community Development Block Grant funds as the head of a consortium representing most of its towns and villages. These grants are usually for capital and infrastructure work like street repaving or sewage line construction. Federal law dictates that a community must have a population of 50,000 residents to be able to apply for the funding. Westchester has applied on behalf of the many of its smaller towns, though its large cities such as Yonkers apply on their own.
Feiner said that Greenburgh, the largest town in the county, could form a consortium with the six villages within its borders. The total population in the consortium would far exceed the 50,000-person threshold, he said.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, is in the midst of a standoff with the federal government over implementation of the housing lawsuit. Astorino refuses to comply with HUD’s request to analyze impediments to fair housing in local zoning, saying the county’s analyses show its 43 municipalities do not have any exclusionary practices on the books. Astorino was told by HUD that if a report wasn’t filed on impediments by May 9, the grants would be reallocated to other communities. Feiner said his town has already lost out on $500,000 worth of sidewalk repairs and other construction.
Astorino told the Business Journal he did not mind if Westchester communities broke off and formed their own consortiums. “We have no issue with that; we encourage that,” he said. County Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, a Democrat, said he didn’t think it was feasible that the communities handle their own applications. Although a town the size of Greenburgh might be able to exceed the 50,000-person threshold, he said, smaller communities such as Port Chester need the county to apply on their behalf.
The loss of the grant money has brought Westchester negative publicity in recent weeks. The Rev. Al Sharpton called Astorino’s refusal to comply with the federal government an insult to New Yorkers and an embarrassment to the rest of the country at a news conference at the county office building April 25.
Sharpton said he would mobilize protesters to hound the county executive, who is running for governor this year.
“We know how to get here,” Sharpton said. “We’ll follow you everywhere until the money flows back into Westchester.”
Ossining Mayor William Haunauer, a Democrat who attended the news conference, said his village will have to fund capital projects through property taxes rather than the grants, which would have paid for water filtration, sewer work and street projects.
“It puts us in a really bad position,” he said. “‘Really bad’ is putting it gently.”
Astorino said he was protecting the home rule of local communities, accusing HUD of overstepping the terms of the settlement. He said Westchester would not be “held hostage to bureaucrats” in Washington, D.C., and forced to dismantle local zoning.
“It’s not worth $5 million; it’s not worth a billion dollars,” he said. The county executive said Sharpton was in town as part of a campaign ploy by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I’d also like to know where Cuomo is on this,” Astorino said.
Cuomo lives in New Castle but has not stated publicly if he believes there is exclusionary zoning in his town or the county, Astorino said. Cuomo was HUD secretary under President Bill Clinton. Sharpton, during his press conference, said he had not spoken to Cuomo nor had he endorsed him yet. “I am campaigning for affordable housing,” Sharpton said.
Kaplowitz, the board chairman, announced lawmakers would try to facilitate a meeting with a HUD-appointed monitor overseeing implementation of the settlement, the county and local members of Congress.
Kaplowitz said he would try to take a leadership role in coming into compliance with the settlement and would ask for an extension beyond May 9 before HUD pulls the federal grants. He downplayed the dispute and said Westchester had already received approvals to build the majority of units required in the settlement.
“People are looking at the hole and not the doughnut,” he said. “We are building fair and affordable housing in Westchester.”
The county executive, though, said he doubted that any progress would be made because the two sides differ on a fundamental principle: Astorino believes he is in compliance with the terms of the settlement, while the federal government does not. He said he has not been able to avoid a stalemate despite ongoing communication with congressional representatives, HUD and others.
“I have been meeting for five years,” he said.