UPDATE, 5:50 p.m.
A federal U.S. Appeals Court ruled today that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can move forward with plans to reallocate $7.4 million in Community Block Development Grant funds that were slated to go Westchester County in 2011, according to news reports.
HUD originally announced in April that it was withholding the funds because the county had failed to meet its requirements in fulfilling the terms of a 2009 fair housing settlement.
The funds are set to expire at the end of this month if they are not reallocated, according to HUD officials
It is unlikely that officials from Westchester County and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development will come to a sudden agreement to the current affordable housing dispute.
But it that doesn’t mean the county isn’t making progress toward its goal of fulfilling the terms of a $63 million settlement in 2009 that requires the county to build 750 units of affordable housing in 31 of the county's predominantly white communities.
It just means that the progress that’s being made should be measured by inches instead of yards.
“In some of the area, yes [the county is making progress],” James E. Johnson, the federal monitor for the county’s housing settlement with HUD, said following a meeting with the county Board of Legislators Thursday. “There’s obviously one matter that’s in the court of appeals and it’s going to be resolved in the court, hopefully, before the end of the month.”
Johnson issued a report stating that Croton-on-Hudson, Lewisboro, the Town of Ossining, Pound Ridge, Town of Mamaroneck, Pelham Manor and Harrison still had zoning that could be considered to be exclusionary. Of the communities listed in the report, only Hastings-on-Hudson, North Salem, Tarrytown and Yorktown that met all the criteria for being exclusionary.
While the other 20 communities did not meet all of Johnson’s criteria, there are other factors that show their zoning may not be exclusionary.
The county maintains that there is no evidence from any of its communities of exclusionary zoning. In the meantime, HUD has taken away $7.4 million of Community Block Development Grant money earmarked in 2011 for failing to “affirmatively further fair housing.” A hearing in federal appellate court on the matter is scheduled today.
“I represent the northern part of the county in Peekskill, Cortlandt and Yorktown,” said county Legislator John Testa, R-Peekskill. “Peekskill is not one of the 31 communities and the other two have gone above and beyond the requirements for building housing and those three communities have been withheld their CDBG funds, in my mind, for no good reason. Projects that were planned for the very people we want to help are now being punished.”
Johnson said that he had no authority over the is the expenditure of CDBG funds.
“One of the motivations for my doing this report is so that it can at least help clarify the issues to the extent that the parties are having discussions,” Johnson said. “We’re not having discussions about disagreement over 31 communities. It’s a discussion that’s much more narrow.”
Out of the seven communities who found to have exclusionary zoning, Johnson said he has met Ossining, Lewisboro, Croton and Mamaroneck. Johnson said those exchanges have been fair and open and there were no signs of resistance on either side.
Johnson also denied claims that he and HUD officials are trying to increase the counties obligation to provide affordable housing under the 2009 agreement. County Executive Robert Astorino has expressed concern that HUD may change the scope of the agreement and require the county to build thousands more affordable housing units.“You will find nothing in terms of the settlement that I have the power to raise the limit from 750 to 10,000...my ability to adjust those numbers is down, not up,” Johnson said.