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Monitor to Mediate County's Housing Settlement

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - A court-appointed monitor has been asked to step in and resolve Westchester and the federal government’s housing settlement stalement.

While monitor James Johnson examines the impasse, Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Planning (HUD) will shift funding to prevent laying off 18 county employees working on implementing the settlement.

Adolfo Carrión, the regional director of HUD for New York and New Jersey, said HUD’s major disagreements with Astorino included his reluctance to override local zoning and his veto of legislation that would prevent landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income.

“At this point [Johnson] will likely bring the parties together to resolve the remaining issues. He has to -- after hearing both sides and weighing the arguments -- offer his position,” said Carrión.

Westchester County agreed to spend $51.6 million building 750 units of affordable housing in the county’s predominately white neighborhoods in an Aug. 2009 settlement with the Anti-Discrimination Center and the federal government.

Astorino, a Republican who inherited the settlement agreement from his predecessor, announced his administration was at an impasse with the federal government after HUD rejected a required report from the county for the fifth time in mid-July. The federal government responded by retracting $7.2 million in grants from Westchester.

Part of the standoff was a misunderstanding on Astorino’s part, according to Carrión, who said HUD did not demand, but suggested, the county make half of the 750-units three-bedroom homes. Astorino projected the additional bedrooms would cost almost twice the agreed upon $51.6 million.

“The county was facing a penalty of $180 million and the settlement provided some relief to them by only assessing them $51.6 million. So we made a decision that the penalty should be set aside and [held] onto as leverage money,” said Carrión. “The three-bedroom issue is a recommendation we made based on the needs assessment the county did about the needs of affordable housing in Westchester.”

HUD and Westchester have agreed to manipulate funding to allow 18 county employees and non-profit staff to continue working on building affordable housing through Dec. 31. The $7.2 million will be reinstated when an agreement is reached.

Astorino’s office said his administration requested that the monitor get involved in late July and aims to have the settlement sorted out by next year.

“We thought it was counterproductive to take away funds from those working to implement the settlement. Now we’re able to keep these folks working and hopefully everything will get resolved by Dec. 31,” said Ned McCormack, a press representative for Astorino. “If we can’t resolve it we’ll be back at square one again.”

What are your thoughts on the impasse? Do you agree with Astorino that the county shouldn't dismantle local zoning? What do you think of HUD's recommendation to make half of the 750 units three-bedroom homes? Email thoughts to strangle@mainstreetconnect.us and we'll include responses in future coverage.

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