Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino was triumphant on July 18 in announcing a federal agency’s acceptance of a housing report, but county legislators said the region still falls short on fair and affordable housing.
Jay Golden, a regional director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, notified the county on July 14 that its eleventh analysis of local zoning impediments to housing has been “deemed acceptable.”
The contentious issue goes back to 2006, when the federal government, on behalf of the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, sued the county. The case was settled in 2009, with the county agreeing to build 750 units of affordable housing in 31 communities where African-Americans and Hispanics are under-represented.
But the case has remained under federal oversight. By last year, the county had exceeded the affordable housing benchmark but still had not provided an acceptable analysis of the role that zoning regulations play in creating or perpetuating population patterns.
In Larchmont, for instance, only 8 percent of the village is dedicated to multifamily housing, and the African-American population is less than 1 percent, Golden said in an April letter rejecting the county’s report. “Yet the county fails to analyze whether zoning is a factor” in white segregation.
Golden’s April rejection is detailed in a 5-page letter with background and several examples of how the county failed to do an acceptable analysis. Last week’s approval letter consisted of one paragraph.
Now HUD accepts Westchester’s position that it found no exclusionary zoning in the county, Astorino said in a news release.
“HUD capitulates,” he declared.
“We were not going to be bullied by HUD into doing things that were not in the settlement. HUD had no reason to intrude into legitimate local zoning and we stood firm on that.”
Some county lawmakers see a different explanation for HUD’s reversal.
Majority Leader Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining, noted that the approval happened after the president appointed Lynne Patton as HUD regional administrator. Patton, who has ties to the Trump family as an events planner and foundation official, began the job in early July.
Regardless, Borgia said in a news release, “there is a continued need for fair and affordable housing in our communities.”
Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers, a candidate for county executive, also questioned HUD politics.
“Trump’s party planner had something to do with it,” he said, and he noted that President Trump and Astorino, a Republican, “are buddies.”
The housing settlement isn’t quite done. The county has to finish an outreach campaign on the benefits of diversity and affordable housing. More than $1 million has been spent on the campaign so far, Astorino said, well above the $400,000 required by the settlement.
He said his next goal is to end federal monitoring, for which the county is paying $675 an hour, with no cap, to former federal Judge Stephen C. Robinson.
Regardless of the status of the settlement, Democrats said the issue of affordable housing is far from finished.
“A lack of affordable housing remains one of the most challenging dilemmas we face in this region,” said Michael Kaplowitz, D-Somers, chairman of the board of legislators.