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Politics

Westchester Communities Scramble To Address Affordable Housing Report

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's four-year battle with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development continues as he refuses to accept a new report from the federal monitor overseeing the fair and affordable housing settlement.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's four-year battle with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development continues as he refuses to accept a new report from the federal monitor overseeing the fair and affordable housing settlement. Video Credit: Brian Donnelly
Federal Monitor Jim Johnson (far end of table) meets with Westchester County legislators. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- There are six communities scrambling this week to defend certain local zoning laws that a new affordable housing report says "cluster" multi-family housing to areas with large minority populations or restricts its construction all together.

Harrison, Larchmont, Lewisboro, North Castle, Pelham Manor and Rye Brook have until next week to submit a response to Federal Monitor Jim Johnson's Huntington Analysis. The preliminary report doesn't talk to intent, but found the six communities' zoning has had a discriminatory impact on minorities.

Explaining why its zoning restrictions are justifiable has cost Larchmont's staff considerable time and money, according to its Mayor Anne McAndrews. 

Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg said last week that the village has put together a task force to analyze and respond to the monitor’s report, which he called "inflammatory." 

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino went farther, saying the report uses "faulty data" by not counting town houses as multifamily units. The report says Rye Brook has 13.1 percent multi-family housing, compared to the county's number at 29.2 percent, according to Ned McCormack, director of communications for Astorino's office.

The difference is even greater for Ossining (not named as exclusionary) at 12.5 percent in the report to 38.1 percent. 

"They're just taking this very selective data and skewing it to create an impression that's wrong and to draw a conclusion from that wrong data," McCormack said.

The county Board of Legislators Chair Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) has asked Astorino to submit a zoning analysis to HUD that incorporates Johnson's Huntington Analysis and Berenson Report from 2013, as well as the county's own studies - all eight of which found no exclusionary zoning and have been rejected by HUD.

Astorino said no. 

While Legislator Peter Harckham (D-North Salem) applauded Kaplowitz for trying to move the process along, he said he wants to wait on a zoning analysis until the six communities have had time to respond. 

"What I'm disappointed in is the reason we're in this situation is the county executive has refused for two years to appropriately do Berenson and Huntington," he said. "All we'd be doing is building the last few units and we'd be done with the settlement." 

Astorino says the county is in compliance with the housing settlement. But, without a zoning analysis that HUD accepts, Westchester will lose $5.2 million in federal grants for homelessness prevention and affordable housing development. Kaplowitz said that money will be reallocated at the end of September if nothing is done, and could result in the loss of another $9 million in funding for the next two years. 

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