WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- In 2009, my predecessor, Andrew Spano and the Board of Legislators signed a legal settlement obligating the county to spend $51.6 million to develop 750 units of fair and affordable housing in 31 so-called eligible or mostly white communities by the end of 2016.
Here’s an update on the status. Let’s start with the bad news.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is trying to use the settlement to dismantle local zoning laws. HUD has the misguided view that zoning and discrimination is the same thing.
It is not. Zoning restricts how land is used, not who lives there. The impediment to where people live in Westchester is money, not race or ethnicity.
Washington bureaucrats, who you will never see or meet, want the power to determine who will live where and how each neighborhood will look. What’s at stake is the fundamental right of our cities, towns, and villages to plan and zone for themselves. This home rule is guaranteed by the New York State Constitution.
HUD wants no restrictions – in any neighborhood – on height, size, acreage, density, or number of bedrooms. HUD even sees sewers as a problem, which is critically significant since Westchester zoning protects the drinking water of 8 million New Yorkers.
If there are no restrictions for HUD, there will be no restrictions for any developer. A high rise can be built on any street, even right next door to you. And if HUD can trample on zoning here, it can do it anywhere.
I urge you to read the HUD letters for yourself and see how the federal government is trying to abolish even basic zoning protections.
Now here’s the good news.
The county is ahead of schedule in fulfilling its obligation in the settlement. Our current benchmark is to have 300 units with financing in place by the end of 2013. The county exceeded the mark in December and currently has 309 units in place with financing, of which 117 are already occupied. Over 91 percent of the required 750 units are already in the pipeline.
Ask yourself this: If the county is ahead of schedule in building affordable housing in these communities, how can their zoning be exclusionary?
One of Westchester’s greatest strengths is its diversity. It is the fourth most-diverse county in the state — tied with Manhattan — in terms of African-Americans and Hispanics.
I pledge to defend with every tool at my disposal the right of people to live anywhere in Westchester in any home they can afford. There is absolutely no place for discrimination in our county. But we won’t be bullied or threatened by HUD to do things that are not in the settlement.
As I have said repeatedly, the county will fulfill all its legal obligations under the settlement. But HUD needs to play by the rules as well.