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Legislator Announces 'Break' In Westchester, HUD Logjam Over Housing

Westchester Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) hopes to break the log jam with HUD by doing another assessment of impediments. Video Credit: Brian Donnelly
Westchester Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) hopes to break the log jam with HUD by doing another assessment of impediments. Video Credit: Brian Donnelly
Chairman Michael Kaplowitz represents New Castle, Somers and Yorktown.
Chairman Michael Kaplowitz represents New Castle, Somers and Yorktown. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly
Westchester Legislator John Test (R-Peekskill) responds to Chairman Michael Kaplowitz's announcement. Video Credit: Brian Donnelly

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The federal monitor overseeing the 2009 affordable housing settlement will conduct another test on behalf of Westchester looking for exclusionary zoning in its communities, which county Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D–Somers) said Wednesday is the “logjam break that we have been waiting for.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has rejected all eight of these tests, known as an analysis of impediments (AI), that Westchester has previously submitted. None found exclusionary zoning.

“I feel that now what they’re trying to do is manipulate the process to come up with the results that they predetermined should be there, that there is exclusionary zoning in the county,” Legislator John Testa (R-Peekskill), minority leader on the county board, said.

Kaplowitz said all eight have been Berenson tests, which looks at the impact of socio-economic status, as opposed to the Huntington test, which looks at a community’s racial composition to see if it would create exclusionary zoning. He said the settlement requires the county to conduct a Huntington test.

Testa disagreed, saying the county has done both tests and that HUD keeps moving the bar.

The federal monitor, Jim Johnson will collect and analyze data from the 31 eligible communities under the settlement and issue a report on his Huntington test by Aug. 15.

“It’s far better knowing that there is an issue on your own terms, on a timely basis without waiting for it to get worse, and then at that point one can make modifications,” Kaplowitz said, adding the test won’t cost taxpayers any money.

Westchester lost its 2011 block grants, totaling $7.4 million and is in danger of losing another $5.2 million in 2012 grants because it failed to adopt Johnson’s 2013 report, which found seven communities had exclusionary zoning. His report did not use a Huntington test, but gave the county steps to “comply with the law.”

Johnson said in a May 27 letter to Kaplowitz that Astorino’s administration has taken no steps in the eight months since to further that analysis.

On the other hand, the Town of Mamaroneck has modified its zoning and been removed from the list of seven. Of the six remaining, five have been talking to Johnson, without the county’s involvement, to help remove its exclusionary zoning, Kaplowitz said.

“We understand many of these communities are right on the cusp of, and in fact will be legislating some changes to their exclusionary zoning,” he said.

While Croton, Lewisboro, Pound Ridge, the Town of Ossining and Pelham Manor have all started those talks, Harrison “isn’t as far along,” according to Kaplowtiz.

The hope is that when Johnson completes his report in August that he will find no exclusionary zoning because the six communities will have modified their zoning. However, Kaplowitz said this must all be done within the parameters of the 2009 settlement.

“What we’ve agreed to is in fact what we’re going to live up to. No more, no less,” he said, referring to the settlement.

Testa said he is worried they will be required to go beyond the settlement as the county board works on legislation assuring HUD that Westchester will conform with the settlement and "affirmatively furthers fair housing.”

“We’re looking for a way to help, but we are not going to give away our home rule and we’re not going to give away things that were negotiated in the settlement,” he said.