June 20, 2014

Push and pull on affordable housing

When the 2009 federal affordable housing settlement was reached after the county violated stipulations of an agreement accepting federal funds, there were two potential scenarios: bad and worse. In one scenario, the county was going to need funds to create new affordable units in Westchester and to begin costly fixes to market homes to those who need them most, within Westchester and without. In a worse scenario, the county could defy the federal government and face years of costly litigation.

Right now it appears we’re in the midst of both. The county is moving forward with the creation of affordable units and complying with the marketing elements required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At the same time, having lost one court battle, against source-of-income legislation, the county continues to fight aspects of the settlement.

County executive Rob Astorino seeks to defy the federal government by withholding an acceptable analysis of impediments as requested by HUD and the monitor. The county has already lost millions in community development block grant funds, hurting the poorest residents, the intended recipients of this money and the ones who need it the most.

According to Mr. Astorino, federal consultants have already opened up a dialogue with the Anti-Discrimination Center, the group that brought the original case. This, according to Mr. Astorino, could put home rule and local zoning at risk.

According to Mr. Astorino, ADC has reiterated that it “will not be satisfied with anything less than the court-ordered dismantling of local zoning.” Mr. Astorino is asking the county to start its own $5 million block grant program.

Pushing the panic button is not warranted at this time. The county agreement is with the federal government, not ADC. There is no hard evidence to suggest that the stipulations of the plan are at risk. In a letter dated May 11, the housing monitor James Johnson stated that Westchester County made additional progress toward its benchmark obligations this quarter. Mr. Johnson has consistently assured legislators that the number of new housing units will not increase from the 750 required by the settlement.

In addition, there is no need for the county to build a block grant program at taxpayer expense when one is already in place.

This month, Westchester County Legislature board chairman Michael Kaplowitz said he and Mr. Johnson plan to perform a new zoning test that relies on data that determines racial bias in zoning towns. This could bridge the gap between HUD’s demands on the analysis of impediments and the county executive’s resistance by studying two separate methodologies to satisfactorily analyze Westchester County zoning. The monitor’s report would include strategies for overcoming zoning that prohibits fair and affordable housing. In addressing the analysis of impediments, both Mr. Kaplowitz and Mr. Johnson seek to expand zoning tests to better enable communities to analyze factors that may play a role in the construction of affordable units.

The new report will replace the previous analysis of impediments done by the county and submitted to HUD only to be rejected. Communities are already voluntarily making modifications to meet the new criteria.

So far, no town has been asked — much less court-ordered — to “dismantle its local zoning,” as Mr. Astorino suggested in a June 11 statement. The monitor to date has been sensitive to both HUD and local concerns, and the board of legislators has cooperated with him to good result. Stubborn opposition and fear-mongering is not the way to go at this time.

Recipe for world peace

As of this writing, the U.S. is 1-0 in World Cup play, defeating soccer nemesis Ghana in their division on Monday. So we turn our attention to this year’s play, the sheer athleticism of the players, the ball control, the fan following and the cultural identifications. This all stands in stark contrast to the brutal wars and sectarianism that rend our world.

Brazil, with its urban favelas — the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and Recife — and the humidity of Cuiaba and Recife, where it rains on average 224 days a year, seems a world away from our lives in northern Westchester. But take a look around and you’ll find Bedford Recreation and Parks’ soccer programs “Total Sports Squirts” and “First Play Soccer” for kids as young as 2 years old. There’s “First Play Soccer” for kids age 5-12 in August in Bedford Hills, and the Bedford Youth Soccer Club with instructional programs for children ages 4-13. The F.C. Bedford Soccer Club for boys and girls 4-11 provides training clinics in Bedford Hills Memorial Park. The Castleford Rovers Soccer Club, a joint venture between Bedford Youth Soccer Club and Armonk United Soccer Club, offers opportunities for travel games and training with professional soccer coaches.

At Mount Kisco American Youth Soccer Organization, an all-volunteer organization, all young athletes are guaranteed playing time in a sportsmanlike atmosphere. Registration for fall AYSO takes place tomorrow, Saturday, June 21. In Katonah-Lewisboro and Bedford Central, high schoolers and middle schoolers enjoy the sport and participate in both girls and boys varsity and JV programs. Same at Rippowam Cisqua and the Harvey School, among many others. The region’s cosmopolitan environment nurtures the world’s most popular sport.

For those of you still stuck in the “soccer is boring” school, we urge you to watch any of the matches involving Germany, Brazil, Argentina or the U.S. So as we read headlines of unspeakable brutality and seemingly unbridgeable diplomatic gulfs, the matches in Brazil bring the best of humanity together with a spirit of world peace, friendly competition and athleticism. Tune in as the U.S. plays Portugal on Sunday. You’ll see.

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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