Feds set deadline for NY's Westchester County
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Federal officials warned New York's Westchester County on Monday that it will lose $7.4 million in grants unless it quickly complies with government orders stemming from a desegregation lawsuit.
A letter from the Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the suburban county exactly one month to end its resistance to two key demands.
First, it said Westchester has to submit a satisfactory analysis of any exclusionary zoning measures in the county. The analysis must include a discussion of when the county would take local governments to court over zoning rules.
The county has already reported that it has found no exclusionary zoning, a stand the government has rejected. In addition, County Executive Rob Astorino has argued that it would violate the state Constitution if the county sued municipalities over zoning.
HUD's second requirement is for Astorino to promote county legislation that would prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants who use Section 8 government subsidies to help pay their rent. Astorino had vetoed such a bill.
HUD Assistant Secretary John Trasvina said in July that a tenant's source of income is "often used as a proxy for race or national origin" in denying housing.
Last year, under threat of contempt of court, Astorino asked the county Legislature to reintroduce the bill he had vetoed, but there has been no movement. The county is also appealing rulings against it.
Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Astorino, released a statement Monday night saying the county is in full compliance with the settlement's requirements.
"HUD's latest action of unilaterally demanding that the county give up either its constitutionally protected rights or $7 million that it was promised two years ago — money that goes not only to build affordable housing but to communities not involved in the settlement and most in need — shows that HUD has no regard or respect for fairness, due process and the judges of the U.S. Second Circuit who are charged with resolving this dispute," McCormack said.
The government said both requirements were elements of the 2009 settlement, under which the county also agreed to build or acquire 750 units of affordable housing — mostly in its whitest towns and villages — and make sure they were marketed to non-whites in the region.
The county says it is ahead of schedule on that requirement.
HUD has been withholding more than $12 million from Westchester. Victor Hom, HUD's director of community planning and development, said that if Westchester does not comply by April 25, HUD will reallocate "to other eligible jurisdictions" the $7.4 million in grants that were authorized in 2011.
"In light of the fact that the county has been on notice about these deficiencies now for years, HUD cannot at this point simply accept general promises of future performance," Hom said in the letter.