County Board Chairman: Agreement On Westchester Affordable Housing Deadlock

Legislator Michael Kaplowitz says a “break” has been made in the county’s ongoing affordable housing woes.

County Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) said Wednesday that the federally-appointed monitor who oversaw a 2009 affordable housing settlement between the federal government and the county has agreed to conduct a test looking for exclusionary zoning across Westchester.

The analysis will not cost taxpayers money, according to Kaplowitz, who sees the approval as a breakthrough in the county’s progress on the issue of affordable housing. Westchester has addressed the first two components of the 2009 settlement—it is in the process of building 750 aff
ordable housing units and has passed source-of-income legislation dictating that landlords cannot discriminate based on homeowners’ means—but has not met other requirements, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), such as tests looking for exclusionary zoning.

Westchester has submitted eight tests to HUD, but all have been rejected for failing to include a Huntington analysis, which examines each community’s racial composition to determine whether exclusionary zoning exists. With the federal monitor conducting the report, the County Board can make progress with HUD independently from County Executive Rob Astorino, who has vetoed efforts to include race as criteria in addition to income in the tests for exclusionary zoning.

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The federal monitor, Jim Johnson, will serve as a “referee” between the County Board and HUD, according to Matt Richter, communications director for the Westchester County Board of Legislators. Johnson will collect and analyze data from 31 communities affected by the 2009 settlement and issue a report by August 15.

Johnson’s 2013 report, which looked at socio-economic status but not race, found that seven Westchester communities—Croton, Harrison, Lewisboro, Mamaroneck, Ossining, Pelham Manor, and Pound Ridge—had zoning laws with elements that could be considered exclusionary under HUD guidelines, and gave the county steps to “comply with the law.” But failure to act made Westchester lose $7.4 million in grants from 2011 and could result in a loss of $5.2 million from grants from 2012. Johnson said in a May 27 letter to Kaplowitz that Westchester had taken no steps for further analysis since the report was issued.

However, Mamaroneck has since modified its zoning and been removed from the list, while the other communities—except Harrison—have contacted Johnson independently from the county to help remove any exclusionary zoning that might exist, Kaplowitz said.

“We understand many of these communities are right on the cusp of, and in fact will be legislating some changes to their exclusionary zoning,” Kaplowitz said.

Kaplowitz said he hopes these efforts will succeed, and the August report will find no exclusionary zoning in Westchester.

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