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Astorino, Legislators Seek to Stop HUD from Withholding Funds

Politicians from both parties agree on preventing funding that would be used by municipalities from being withheld amid dispute over housing settlement.

Wetchester County Executive Rob Astorino and members of the County Board of Legislators from both parties agree on stopping U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from withholding federal funds in response to what the agency believes are two items in which the county has failed to comply with its affordable housing settlement.

After an hours-long meeting on Tuesday of the legislature’s Committee of the Whole and several of Astorino’s administration officials, it appears that there could be a vote from the full body on allowing for the county attorney to seek an injunction against HUD. The intention, explained board Chairman Kenneth Jenkins, is to prevent funds that are designated for municipalities and non-profits from being taken away from them; the county, meanwhile, merely acts as a passthrough for the federal money. A vote for the authorization is slated for Monday, Jenkins said.

Meanwhile, Astorino and the legislature will send a letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and members of the area’s Congressional delegation, requesting the state take over the county’s passthrough role for the funds. Legislatures cite recent precedent, where post-Hurricane Sandy disaster relief, initiated under a similar federal program and some of the funding discussed, was intended to move through the state.

With both avenues on the table, Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat who is seeking to unseat Astorino in this year’s election, described the response as a “two-prong approach.”

Majority Leader, and fellow Democrat, Peter Harckham, spoke with reporters after coming out of an executive session portion of the meeting, and described in general what the approach would be to take.

“Let's not penalize the municipalities. If you don't want the county to be the passthrough, that's fine.”

The interest from the board comes days after Astorino made a request for authorization for the county attorney to pursue legal action against HUD. Astorino has also requested a hearing on the funding dispute.

HUD, in a March 25 letter, warned the county that it would lose about $7.4 million in funds if there was no promotion of source of income legislation, which would bar landlords from refusing to accept rental payments from federal programs such as Section 8 vouchers. HUD also argued that Westchester had not satisfactorily completed an analysis of impediments and needed to do more to identify “exclusionary zoning” at the local level.” A deadline of April 25 for compliance was given.

Astorino has blasted HUD for its withholding threat.

“If HUD has issues, there is a process to be followed," he said in a recent statement. "What HUD is doing is extortion based on nothing more than its unsupported opinions. The county is asking for nothing more than to be treated fairly under HUD’s own rules.”

One administration official echoed Astorino's frustration.

“They want it their way or no way,” said Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett, who was among those from Astorino's camp present at the meeting.

Since the HUD letter, a federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the federal government over a dispute between the agency and Astorino on promoting source of income legislation. The county executive vetoed similar legislation in 2010 and has argued that landlords should not be required to comply with Section 8. Astorino has called on legislators to introduce related legislation, while Democratic members of the body argue that the onus is on him to do so.

During the committee meeting, it was noted that James Johnson, a monitor who is overseeing the 2009 settlement, is working on his own study on local zoning. It was wondered what impact Johnson’s work would have on the county’s dilemma with HUD on the topic and what it could mean legally.

“Well, how did HUD come to their determination that there's exclusionary zoning in Westchester when the monitor's still doing his review,” said legislative Minority Leader James Maisano, a Republican who agrees with his Democratic counterparts on seeking to preserve the funds, which were for the 2011 fiscal year.

The settlement calls for the construction of 750 affordable housing units in predominantly white communities by 2016. 

The Last Patriot April 19, 2013 at 03:42 AM
I have no affiliation with any political party. With that said, I really have grown to detest the Democratic Party. S vunch of snakes who do what they need to do to buy votes. Now they want the immigration bill to pass and give ILLEGAL aliens the riggt to citizenship. It's a friggen joke. I know countless immigrants who came in legally and trough the proper legal channels. Now, the Liberal Democrats want "affordable housing" in the wealthiest zip codes in America. I make 60k a year and I will NEVER live in Bronxville, and I could care less. People live where they can afford to live. Enough of this "victim card" BS. Selfish and greedy runs rampant nowadays. i"m sick of wqtching this country fall apart. The progressives are killing this nation.
Peter April 23, 2013 at 04:10 PM
This comment makes no sense.
Peter April 23, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Other jurisdictions, including the entire states of Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey, have already passed source of income legislation. But that was up to them. New York City and Nassau County have also passed similar legislation. But the particular lawsuit and resulting legal stipulation/settlement have to do with WESTCHESTER only. The entire state was not sued, so the entire state is not involved, Billy. Westchester was sued, in 2006 and 2009, under the False Claims Act for certifying that it would affirmatively further hair housing while doing no such thing. The federal judge in the case said it has utterly failed to meet its obligations. The County signed a legal settlement, in which it agreed to the oversight of a federal monitor, HUD's sole capacity to approve the County's mandatory analysis of impediments to fair housing (direct recipients of certain funds from HUD must submit an AI in order to receive the funds), as well as the County Executive's obligation to promote source of income legislation, which was then a bill in the Board of Legislators. The County agreed to do these things! It is a legal obligation. The County had a choice in making the agreement.
Peter April 23, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Again, the County took money while certifying that it would affirmatively further fair housing. Meanwhile it hadn't even addressed where different racial groups live across the County its mandatory analysis. The County was sued and was likely going to lose. Thus it agreed to the terms of the 2009 settlement. It has a choice in the settlement! The Board of Legislators approved the settlement. If the County didn't want to do anything about advancing fair housing, which allows all people to have an equal opportunity to choose where to live without discrimination (it doesn't give anyone housing; everyone has to qualify and be able to afford the housing), the County should not have taken the millions of dollars it took over the decades. This has absolutely nothing to do with your local property taxes. The settlement is a legal agreement, and is not akin to the Mafia extorting money. Astorino and the Board of Legislators are now likely to be held in contempt of court for voting to sue HUD, which is going to cost all County residents quite a pretty penny.
Peter April 23, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Good point. They didn't take the HUD CDBG funds though.

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