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Westchester Claims Another Legal Victory In Federal Housing Settlement

Federal Housing Monitor James Johnson (far end of table) at a meeting with the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
Federal Housing Monitor James Johnson (far end of table) at a meeting with the Westchester County Board of Legislators. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- County Executive Rob Astorino on Thursday said that Westchester had won another victory in its federal housing settlement.

The U.S. Magistrate Judge assigned to the affordable housing case ruled that the county had provided financing for enough units to meet its 2014 benchmark and that there was no basis for the county to be held in contempt, according to a press statement. That means no fines as threatened by the U.S. Justice Department. 

Both sides have 14 days to object to Thursday's report. If objections are filed, they can be reviewed by the U.S. District Court.

"This is another win for our residents," Astorino said. "From the beginning, the county has worked hard to comply with the terms of the settlement.''

It marked the second time since Sept. 25 that Astorino has claimed major victories in the county's legal battles with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (HUD), although some politicians called the last win "a hollow one."

Astorino, in a prepared statement, said that the federal magistrate's decision "clearly shows that the county has met its obligations and that the federal government's contention of contempt was wrong and without legal merit or justification."

On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein dismissed the federal government's contention, saying the 28 units "should be counted." "The record is devoid of evidence that the inclusion of this provision makes the financing any less available for the Chappaqua Station development," Gorenstein wrote.

Thursday's ruling focused on 28 units of affordable housing being developed in New Castle -- a project known as "Chappaqua Station." The units were part of the 2009 affordable housing settlement reached between HUD and Astorino's predecessor as county executive, Andy Spano.

Under that settlement agreement, Westchester must ensure the development of 750 units of affordable housing in 31 predominantly white communities by the end of next year.

The HUD settlement also calls for the county to meet annual benchmarks. By the end of 2014, the county had to help finance 450 units of affordable housing.

Last November, the Westchester County Board of Legislators approved financing for the Chappaqua Station project, putting the county over the settlement benchmark by four units. 

However, a court-appointed federal monitor assigned to the case, James Johnson, and the U.S. Department of Justice, argued that the town of New Castle units should not count because the project did not have all of its local board approvals in place.

Not counting Chappaqua Station would have left the county 24 units short of the latest federal benchmark. 

The federak magistrate also sided with the county on the contempt issue, saying the federal government failed to meet the standard for showing such a charge was warranted. 

Astorino's office said the county successfully argued that its behavior had to be measured against what the HUD settlement actually says, not what Johnson claimed it said in his repor

For 2015, the county says it has surpassed its 600-unit benchmark for financing with 635; and has 466 units with building permits -- 59 short of the goal -- with 101 applications pending.

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