Westchester County has complied with benchmarks set as part of a housing settlement reached with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, County Executive Robert P. Astorino said on Tuesday.
Under the 2009 settlement, which was the result of a lawsuit that claimed the county promoted discrimination by ignoring local zoning restrictions, Westchester had until the end of 2016 to obtain permits for 750 affordable units in 31 mostly white communities.
If the county failed to meet those requirements, it could have faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
“We met our goals because we worked cooperatively with our cities, towns and villages,” Astorino said. “That approach allowed us to succeed and push back attempts by the federal government to bypass home rule and take over local zoning.”
Astorino said the county has permits for 790 units, with another 100 units in the pipeline. About 400 of those units are already occupied, he said.
County Board of Legislators Minority Leader John Testa applauded Astorino for exceeding the requirements of the settlement.
“With this settlement behind us, I look forward to continuing the development of affordable housing in Westchester County because our residents need it and it makes our communities better,” he said. “It will be a much more positive and productive endeavor without the federal government’s interference.”
The board’s Majority Leader Catherine Borgia said that while the county’s compliance is positive news, government officials must ensure going forward that housing is built with the best interests of all taxpayers in mind.
“I’m encouraged that the county executive will no longer be able to use this housing settlement as a politically divisive way to further his personal ambitions and that taxpayer money will no longer be spent on lawyers fighting with the federal government,” she said. “The end of the settlement is a perfect opportunity to conduct a true, fact-based housing needs assessment to determine the types of housing needs to be built to meet the changing needs of our county.”
The Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition, an organization composed of nonprofit and business groups, agreed that the settlement order is a small step toward a larger goal.
“In a county with nearly the same amount of land as all five boroughs combined, we should not be content with doing 107 affordable units a year for seven years,” said Alexander Roberts, co-founder of the coalition. “This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s needed.”
With the housing benchmarks met, Astorino said only “peripheral” tasks remain, including an analysis of impediments. The Department of Housing and Urban Development previously rejected eight versions of the county’s analysis of impediments, which identifies issues that could impede building fair housing in Westchester. Still, the county hopes to obtain its approval by early next year.