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Westchester Exceeds HUD Mandate With 790th Affordable Housing Unit

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, pictured, announced on Tuesday that the county exceeded the benchmark for the federal affordable-housing settlement. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Elected officials, developers and press were on hand Tuesday for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's announcement about the county exceeding its affordable-housing settlement benchmark. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Astorino speaks to the audience at Tuesday's announcement. Photo Credit: Provided

This story has been updated.

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announced Tuesday that more than 750 affordable housing units have been developed, a major milestone in the county's federal agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (HUD)

Under the terms of the 2009 settlement reached between HUD and county government, Westchester is required to spend at least $51.6 million to develop 750 units of affordable housing by the end of this year in 31 mostly white communities.

At an afternoon news conference, Astorino said that the fair housing obligation has not only been met four days before the deadline, but exceeded by 40 units, bringing the total to 790 affordable units.

“We had to fulfill our obligations within seven years, and we exceeded them,” Astorino said in a statement. “We met our goals because we worked cooperatively with our cities, towns and villages."

The county has an additional 100 units further back in the pipeline, according to Astorino.

In a separate statement, County Board of Legislators Majority Leader Catherine Borgia said, “I congratulate the 31 Westchester communities named in the housing settlement for their hard work in improving and expanding housing options for residents in compliance with the 2008 Affordable Housing Settlement."

Astorino said that since 2010, the county has also approved over $5 million in funding to support another 400 non-HUD settlement affordable housing units, which are located in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, the village of Ossining and White Plains. The county’s Industrial Development Agency has provided millions of dollars in financial incentives to support over 800 affordable housing units located in a number of municipalities, including Hasting-on-Hudson, Mamaroneck, Mount Vernon, Rye and Scarsdale, according to Astorino.

“It is positive news that Westchester County is no longer found in violation of laws aimed to curb discrimination in housing, but it is now time to make sure that going forward we construct housing that has the best interests of all Westchester taxpayers in mind," said Borgia, a Democrat from Ossining.

Six months ago, a federal judge ordered Westchester County government to hire a consultant to comply with a 10-year-old federal housing discrimination lawsuit. At the time, a spokesman for Astorino said that HUD was "overreaching" while trying to change local zoning laws.

During a summer hearing in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said Westchester must hire a consultant to complete reports required in its affordable housing agreement with HUD. HUD and its court-appointed monitor have rejected eight prior reports as inadequate.

Attorneys representing Astorino -- whose administration inherited the settlement -- and seven towns that HUD and its court-appointed monitor James Johnson argue have not complied with the agreement -- previously argued that the federal government was overstepping its authority.

The county is required to complete "Analysis of impediments" -- or AI reports -- detailing obstacles to completing affordable housing projects in its mostly white suburban towns and villages.

Westchester has submitted eight AI reports so far, Astorino said, adding that all were rejected by the federal government. The county executive expressed optimism that President-elect Donald Trump's administration will give its approval to the ninth submission. Astorino specifically mentioned Ben Carson, who is Trump's nominee for HUD Secretary. Carson's appointment is subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Astorino, who made his preference for the conservative leanings of a Trump administration of the housing matter, was also hopeful that Cote will ultimately sign off on ending the settlement.

In May, the U.S. Justice Department followed up on Johnson's recommendation that it sue seven communities in Westchester County: Croton-on-Hudson, Harrison, Lewisboro, Pelham Manor, Larchmont, North Castle and Rye Brook.

Johnson stepped down as monitor in August; Astorino, citing the late timeline of the settlement, does not support filing the post.

Borgia said that the Democratic Caucus has added funds to conduct a comprehensive Housing Needs Assessment in the 2016 and 2017 budgets.

"Westchester County has an aging population and has become more economically diverse," Borgia said. "We also seek solutions on how to attract and keep our young professionals in the county. We need to utilize smart data to make sure we can meet housing for seniors, young professionals, and new families in order to increase our economic growth and viability."

Astorino told Tuesday's news conference: “The settlement’s legal and financial obligations were never intended to last forever. It’s time for a conclusion. As the Second Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals said, ‘At some point in time this litigation has to be ended.’ That time should be near.”

Tallying up the costs, Westchester County has spent about $30 million more than the $51.6 million required under the terms of the settlement, according to Astorino. Combined with state and federal funds, Astorino said that the cost per unit was $290,000, a figure that he said is too much for affordable-housing developments in general.

Tom Auchterlonie contributed to this article.

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