They were talking about an affordable housing “report card” sent by Maurice Jones, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, last month.
Astorino said the affordable housing allocations given in the report cards are based on a Rutgers study released in 2004 that was never approved by the county. He said the allocations exceed the benchmarks set forth for the county during its affordable housing settlement in 2009 and that the new numbers are an attempt by HUD to force localities to change their zoning.
“The 2004 study, for all intents and purposes, should be thrown out,” Astorino said. “It has nothing to do with the settlement. Nothing. Seven hundred and fifty is the only number that anyone should be talking about.”
In 2006, the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York brought a federal lawsuit that claimed the county failed to live up to its obligation to provide affordable housing and address issues of racial segregation in its housing markets.
That suit eventually led to a $63 million settlement in 2009 that requires the county to see to it that 750 units of affordable housing are built in 31 of the county’s predominantly white communities and to market those units to the nine counties surrounding Westchester.
But Astorino said HUD’s plan in the report cards would require the county to build 5,097 additional affordable housing units. The two largest allocations were 975 affordable housing units for Mount Pleasant and 756 units for Harrison, meaning each town’s individual report card allocation surpasses the settlement’s total, according to Astorino.
Jones wrote another letter to Ken Jenkins, chairman of the Westchester county Board of Legislators, last month refuting Astorino’s claims that HUD is requiring the county to build additional affordable housing units.
“Under paragraph 7 of the Settlement, the County is obligated to ensure the development of “at least” 750 new affordable housing units that affirmatively further fair housing,” Jones wrote. “By its terms, this is a floor, not a ceiling.”
Jones said the Rutgers study, which estimates that the county would need to build nearly 11,000 affordable housing units to meet the regions needs, was used as a starting point
“In any event, HUD is not requiring the County to build this number of units, but to use this study as a tool to examine how the eligible municipalities are contributing to meet the regional needs,” Jones wrote to Jenkins. “Such an examination does not equate to a new funding mandate.”
Joan Maybury, supervisor of the Town of Mount Pleasant, said she wanted to know why HUD sent out the report cards using the Rutgers figures if they really didn’t mean anything.
“The idea that the federal monitor would send a report card beforehand and have it with flaws—in the Town of Mount Pleasant it said we didn’t have any affordable accessory apartment, which is absolutely not true…I think the public deserves a little bit better in regards to communication,” Maybury said.
Astorino said that this was another example of how HUD has continued to ‘move the goalposts’ when it comes to Westchester and is attempting to see how far it can push.
He said the county had 386 units with financing so far, which is well past the goal of 300 units that was set for 2013.
“When I say we’re done, are they going to say no your not, this is going on forever?” Astorino said. “I think this is what we’d like to know. When we get to 750 units, is it game over? Or do we have ongoing obligations to build more?”