I want to share the thoughtful and well-written Op-Ed below from my colleague on the Board of Legislators – David Gelfarb. David represents Rye Brook, Port Chester & Harrison and is a practicing attorney. I also voted YES to support the lawsuit to oppose HUD’s arbitrary and capricious actions against our county. I take my oath to protect the people of Westchester County very seriously, and HUD is taking positions at odds with the facts and law when interpreting the settlement agreement and is trying to deny Westchester any degree of fairness and due process. I support the positions David presents in his Op-Ed.
I write with respect to my vote at a special meeting of the County Legislature on Monday, April 23 which authorized the County Attorney to commence a lawsuit against the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of the County. The vote was necessary because HUD has threatened that it will revoke $7.4 million in grants and monies for Westchester communities, including in particular Port Chester, as a result of the County’s alleged failure to comply with certain provisions in the 2009 housing settlement between HUD and the County. In brief, HUD has threatened to take away this money on April 25th. I am particularly distressed that HUD is threatening to withhold this money from Port Chester when Port Chester, along with every other municipality in Westchester, is not even a party to the settlement. The bill passed in the Legislature by a vote of 12-4.
Currently, there are three main issues with the settlement. First, and most important to me, is the actual construction of affordable housing. The County is ahead of schedule on building units. I note that Rye Brook is committed to allowing the construction of affordable housing at 525 Ellendale Avenue and 80 Bowman Avenue. Second is the issue of Source of Income legislation, which has to do with forcing landlords to allow tenants to use Section 8 vouchers and Social Security (and other benefits) to pay rent. That issue continues to bounce back and forth between the executive and legislative branches of County government. Finally, there is the issue of discriminatory zoning. In essence, HUD wants the County to list all of the discriminatory zoning regulations throughout Westchester that are preventing low income and minority persons from moving to those municipalities that are covered by the HUD settlement. Curiously, nobody at HUD has explained which villages have such discriminatory zoning, or what zoning regulations are discriminatory. Rather, the County is simply supposed to state that certain villages and towns have discriminatory zoning, and then, even more incredibly, is supposed to draw up plans to sue these municipalities at taxpayer expense to overturn local zoning. Meanwhile, the federal Monitor has been writing to villages throughout Westchester, requesting information about their zoning codes (in the case of Rye Brook, the information is available on-line) with the clear insinuation, as Newsday recently reported, that the zoning codes are segregationist. The attorney for the Village of Rye Brook recently sent a detailed analysis to the County explaining how the Monitor’s letter to the Village contained “egregious inaccuracies” and “gross misstatements and inaccuracies” and setting forth the Village’s commitment to allowing the building of affordable housing.
Given this complete mess, and the fact that Port Chester has nothing to do with any of it, I have voted to grant the County Attorney the authority to sue HUD to protect the funds that have been appropriated for Port Chester. For example, the Port Chester Housing Authority has been awarded over $290,000 for emergency generators, and the Village has been awarded $260,000 for sidewalk improvements and $150,000 for the elimination of sewer pollution. Open Door Medical Center, which performs valuable services, has been awarded monies for acquisition of medical equipment. The Don Bosco Community Center is scheduled to receive $300,000 for building improvements. These improvements to the Village, which will enhance its infrastructure and the quality of life of its residents, should not be held hostage to an arcane and bitter dispute over whether certain Westchester municipalities have exclusionary zoning. Moreover, we all as taxpayers pay for these grants. The money does not fall out of the sky. If such zoning exists, it can and should be dealt with in a manner that does not harm villages, such as Port Chester, that have nothing to do with this dispute.
David B. Gelfarb, County Legislator, 6th District
(Port Chester, Harrison, Rye Brook)