The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

County faces loss of federal funds in housing deal

By DON HEPPNER

This week the federal Housing and Urban Development agency declared again that they are unhappy with the progress made by Westchester County in meetings terms of the county’s housing settlement. The county stands to lose $7 million in federal funds.

In a statement Wednesday, HUD said that it is pleased that the county continues to strive to meet its settlement obligation to construct 750 units of new affordable housing units.

But, according to HUD spokesman Adam Glantz, “HUD remains concerned with the county’s lack of progress in a number of areas, including the promotion of legislation banning source of income discrimination, addressing exclusionary zoning practices and the creation of an education campaign addressing the benefits of mixed-income housing and racially and ethnically integrated communities.

“It is the county’s failure to address its obligations regarding source of income legislation and exclusionary zoning that has delayed the availability of HUD’s 2011 formula funding to the county, which will not be released until these matters are resolved,” Mr. Glantz said in the statement.

Donna Greene of County Executive Rob Astorino’s office said that HUD, which had routinely approved the process documents in the past, has rejected the county’s submission five times since the settlement was signed, creating an impact on the finances of the county and its municipalities.

“HUD’s actions have led to layoffs in the planning department, a reduction in support for nonprofit housing agencies that work with the county to develop affordable housing and a loss of community investment in Westchester’s poorest communities,” Ms. Greene said.

HUD is unhappy to the point they are withholding 
$7 million intended to pay for projects in Westchester County municipalities.
Ms. Greene said that if the issues are not resolved, the loss of HUD funds will restrict the ability of the county to leverage federal dollars to complete the building obligations set forth in the settlement agreement with the agreed upon $51.6 million.

The county is engaged in the dispute resolution process and is optimistic that the matter will be resolved in an appropriate manner, she said.


Municipalities are notified

A January 10 letter from the housing settlement monitor, James Johnson, to town supervisors throughout the county and the Westchester County executive told towns that the federal government has cut off $7 million in funding to local municpalities until the county is in compliance. 

Despite the number of fair and affordable housing units built to date in Westchester County in compliance with the settlement agreement reached with HUD, HUD is unhappy to the point they are withholding $7 million intended to pay for projects in Westchester County municipalities.

Among the money HUD is withholding is a $125,000 grant to the Town of Bedford that would go for street improvements for safer routes to schools.

“The list includes many town projects, and in addition to that, related agencies to housing had to be cut back,” Ms. Greene said. “We had to lay off five people in our planning department due to withholding this money. These are people who would be working on projects related to housing.”

In his letter to towns, Mr. Johnson called the county’s approach “largely opportunistic rather than systematically planned.”

One example of opportunism, according to Mr. Johnson, was in the site selection of Pinebrook commons, a development in Larchmont. “The physical layout of the site tends to isolate it from nearby commercial and residential areas,” the report states.

The isolation in the Larchmont example fails to achieve the integration intended in the settlement, according to Mr. Johnson.


County touts housing gains

The county is well ahead of its benchmark to complete 750 housing units, and that progress is applauded by Mr. Johnson in his report, but the monitor stated concerns about public statements made by County Executive Rob Astorino.

One such statement cited by Mr. Johnson in his letter to supervisors was made during a press conference held on July 15, 2011. At the time, Mr. Johnson said, Mr. Astorino accused HUD of trying to push through an “integration order,” not a housing settlement.

Mr. Johnson said that Mr. Astorino’s statement does not show support for the program. He reminded the county’s administration and the town supervisors that a goal of the settlement agreement is integration.

The Pratt Institute was hired to develop criteria for evaluating potential development sites to achieve the settlement’s goals, according to Mr. Johnson, but the county has not acted upon the recommendations that would achieve integration.

The county’s duties go beyond the bricks-and-mortar requirements of the settlement, according to Mr. Johnson.

A requirement of the settlement is that Westchester County market the newly constructed housing in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner.

At least one phase of that effort has been successful, according to Ms. Greene. The county has used its website to get the word out to nonwhite areas outside of Westchester, and it has been a very successful tool in attracting people to sign up for information about affordable housing opportunities. In the first 14 months of operation of this site, it drew 9,033 viewers and 1,576 households have signed up for information.

Those who expressed interest in more information come from 15 states, New York City, other Hudson Valley counties and all over Westchester.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


 

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FEBRUARY 10, 2012