In a rare move, HUD sent Westchester County notice that it has one month to come up with a plan to comply with three major requirements of the 2009 settlement. Failure to do so, Westchester will permanently lose millions in grants from HUD. One of the requirements involves both a ban on discrimination based on income and ending segregation or exclusionary zoning. As a result, Westchester County stands to lose an estimated $7.4 million in federal HUD funding for failing to comply with the terms of the Fair and Affordable Housing Settlement.
In 2009, the county was facing crippling fines for having taken tens of millions of federal housing dollars while falsely claiming it had complied with fair-housing mandates. In settling the case, the county agreed to build hundreds of affordable units, analyze how exclusionary zoning and other obstacles blocked fair housing, and take steps to overcome them. The County was also supposed to promote a law to forbid landlords from discriminating against tenants who use government vouchers to pay rent.
However, in 2010, when legislators passed the bill protecting tenants, Astorino vetoed it, and then tried to argue that the county had met its obligation to promote the law. The courts have ruled otherwise. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a District Court decision that held that the county violated the settlement when Astorino vetoed a bill to prohibit landlords from discriminating against renters using government income such as Section 8 or Social Security to pay their rent, known as the source-of-income legislation.
Astorino vetoed the legislation in 2010, saying it was flawed and would saddle landlords with unnecessary regulation. The veto put the county in breach of the 2009 settlement, which calls for the development of 750 units of affordable housing in predominantly white communities. As the 2nd Circuit noted, you can’t veto a bill and “promote” it at the same time!
HUD’s stripping Westchester of federal funds will be an unprecedented move. HUD has been criticized for its failures to take actions to enforce the fair housing laws. Considering the fact that this issue has dragged on for more than three years, critics have argued that enforcement and compliance actions were long over due. HUD’s ultimatum seems to have paid off. Astorino agreed last Wednesday to sign the fair housing bill he vetoed in 2010 if the county Legislature passes it again.