In case you missed them, Sunday we offered two contrasting views of Westchester’s housing settlement. The pieces — one from the fair housing group Westchester Residential Opportunities Inc. and the other from County Executive Rob Astorino — are like polar opposites on the settlement and what it means to communities. See what you think.
I wrote a comment, which appears w/ the Astorino piece in print and online, on the question of how many affordable housing units the county is obliged to build under the 2009 agreement. The answer set forth in the pact is 750. For some reason, Astorino now suggests the real number is closer to 11,000 units, at a cost of up to $1.1 billion, necessitating a 200 percent property tax increase.
That comment is reproduced here (since it doesn’t show up very well online):
Rise of a new city?
Did Westchester County’s obligation to build affordable housing under the fair housing settlement suddenly morph from 750 units to 10,768 units—enough housing for the equivalent of a brand-new city?
The answer is an emphatic “No!” from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which inked the 2009 pact with Westchester. County Executive Rob Astorino, who opposes the housing settlement he is obligated to implement, left a distinctly different impression in his State of the County address last month.
Astorino said “overreaching” by Washington “means 750 (affordable housing) units becomes 10,768” units. He went on to explain how much this would cost: “$1 billion and a 200 percent tax hike to pay for it.” He upped the price in a subsequent submission to The Journal News: “So the total cost to county taxpayers would be between $900 million and $1.1 billion.”
But there is no such directive from HUD, from the federal monitor overseeing implementation of the settlement or from the federal courts. “It just isn’t so,” HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan told the Editorial Board. What Astorino no doubt objects to is a rebuke from HUD contained in a March 13, 2013 letter. It rejects the county’s view that Westchester need not consider — when analyzing local impediments to fair housing — an authoritative study that concluded Westchester would face a shortage of nearly 11,000 units of affordable housing by 2015.
Wrote HUD: “The Department disagrees. Both the Needs Assessment and the Allocation Plan (the data predict future housing needs and set forth where units should go) provide important evidence of the regional needs. As such, the Department expects the County to consider such evidence in examining whether a zoning ordinance considers regional needs and requirements.” But that is no instruction to build — or to saddle taxpayers with a $1 billion-plus tax bill and 200 percent tax hike.
HUD spokesman Sullivan: “Our calling attention to that report is not the same as requesting the building of 10,000 units at a cost of $1 billion. It just isn’t so. No matter how many times you say it, it doesn’t make it so.”
— Herb Pinder