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Westchester Reacts To 'More Harassment' From Federal Housing Monitor

Federal Housing Monitor James Johnson (far end of table) at a meeting with the Westchester County Board of Legislators. In a new report, Johnson accused the county of making "demonstrably false" claims about the federal housing case.
Federal Housing Monitor James Johnson (far end of table) at a meeting with the Westchester County Board of Legislators. In a new report, Johnson accused the county of making "demonstrably false" claims about the federal housing case. Photo Credit: File photo

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The latest report from a federal housing monitor "is more harassment,'' a spokesman for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said on Friday afternoon.

Federal monitor James Johnson said, in this 69-page report, that Westchester County officials spread demonstrably false information about the county's federal housing discrimination settlement in an effort to undermine the process.

Johnson, an attorney and court-appointed monitor, said in his new report that Astorino and other top Westchester officials have claimed in public that the 2009 settlement would cost more than $1 billion, destroy municipal zoning laws and requires high-rise public housing in residential neighborhoods.

Ned McCormack, county director of communications and a senior advisor to Astorino, said: "This is more harassment by an overreaching HUD-controlled federal monitor who is apparently upset that Westchester is meeting its benchmarks to build affordable housing while preserving the constitutional rights of local governments to oversee local zoning."

"The unfounded allegations by the monitor, who serves at the pleasure of HUD, are a continuation of an unsuccessful smear campaign," McCormack said.

"In addition, the monitor’s report places a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of the County Executive and anyone who disagrees with the monitor’s opinions," McCormack claimed.

The record clearly shows Westchester has done nothing wrong, McCormack said. The county has met all of its annual benchmarks for developing 750 units of affordable housing in 31 mostly white communities by the end of this year, Astorino's spokesman added.

Astorino claimed a major victory in September 2015 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said in a decision that “there has been no finding, at any point, that Westchester actually engaged in housing discrimination.”

According to McCormack:

-- At the end of 2015, 649 affordable Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing units had financing in place, exceeding the federal settlement requirement of 600 units.

-- At the end of 2015, 588 affordable housing units had building permits or Certificates of Occupancy in place, exceeding the HUD requirement of 525 units.

-- At the end of 2015, a total of 6,178 applications had been received for all of the affordable units marketed to date. Of these applications, 36 percent of the heads of households identified themselves as white, 35 percent as African American, 27 percent as Hispanic and 3 percent as Asian

The Homeseeker Central Intake system at www.westchestergov.com/homeseeker continues to garner interest and households signing up. A total of 8,295 households have signed up on this website since its inception, to receive information on affordable housing opportunities. According to McCormack, interested parties come from 31 states, New York City, other New York counties, and all over Westchester County.

Johnson, the federal monitor, said all of the county's assertions are false and violate that county's obligation to act "in good faith" in implementing the settlement.

"The difference, however, between what county officials told the public and what county officials stated under oath in depositions with the monitor was, in many cases, stark," Johnson wrote. "Once under oath, in many instances, county officials either abandoned the county executive’s public claims, contradicted each other, disclaimed any knowledge of facts related to those claims, or adopted facially unreasonable interpretations of documents."

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