The Rev. Al Sharpton called Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s affordable housing standoff with the federal government an insult to New Yorkers and an embarrassment to the rest of the country.
Sharpton said he would mobilize protesters to hound the county executive, a Republican who will be on the campaign trail this year seeking election as governor.
“We know how to get here,” Sharpton said. “We’ll follow you everywhere until the money flows back into Westchester.”
Sharpton held a news conference at the county office building in White Plains on Thursday, one day after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development threatened to withhold $5.2 million in federal grants unless the county complied with the terms of a 2009 settlement. Westchester already lost out on $7.4 million in federal community block development grants for projects dating back to 2011 because of lack of compliance.
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.”
The county, prior to Astorino’s election, entered into a settlement with the federal government that said Westchester would build 750 affordable housing units in some of its richest and statistically whitest communities. Thirty-one of Westchester’s 43 municipalities were to be targeted for the housing because their populations were less than 7 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black.
Astorino continues to clash with HUD over a request to identify local zoning practices that may be racially exclusionary and lay out plans to make zoning more inclusive.
Astorino has said he will comply with the construction of the units but refuses to acknowledge local zoning may have resulted in racial exclusion or discrimination. He accused HUD of overstepping the terms of the settlement and said he would not be “held hostage to bureaucrats” in Washington, D.C., 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.
HUD, in its letter Wednesday, set a deadline of May 9 for the county executive to comply with a plan to “affirmatively further fair housing.” County Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, a Democrat, announced the board 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.”