Westchester violated affordable housing settlement, faces big fines
Taxpayer money is at stake.
The monitor overseeing Westchester’s fair housing settlement said Friday that the county has violated the settlement and could be fined $60,000 a month, be held in contempt and forced to build more affordable housing.
In a report to the court, James Johnson said the county has fallen short of the settlement’s requirement to have financing in place for 450 units of affordable housing by the end of 2014 because 28 units in the Chappaqua Station development in New Castle should not be counted.
Calling out New Castle for obstructing affordable housing, the monitor also said the county violated its duty to use “all available means” including legal action to counter New Castle’s opposition.
“The County has chosen to be a spectator to New Castle’s efforts to hinder the Settlement’s Paragraph 7 objectives,” wrote Johnson, referring to the paragraph that lays out the housing benchmarks.
Though the county and federal officials have fought over several provisions of the settlement, this is the first time the county has been declared in violation over the number of units being built or the requirement that it push towns to promote fair housing.
Johnson has asked the U.S. attorney to determine whether to ask the court to hold the county in contempt. The county also faces potential fines of $30,000 for January and $60,000 each month thereafter. The money will be used to build additional units.
Under the settlement, the county must help build 750 units of affordable housing in 31 predominantly white communities and take other steps to break down barriers to housing choice. Johnson said the New Castle development is key to meeting the benchmark.
“There are 718 units in the County’s development pipeline, a figure that includes Chappaqua Station, and the 750-unit benchmark is a mere 19 months away,” he wrote.
Craig Gurian of the Anti-Discrimination Center, which filed the original lawsuit against the county that led to the 2009 settlement, said the county has counted on the monitor to “wink” at its attempts to cheat.
“It’s refreshing to see that the monitor has drawn a line at that particular form of cheating,” Gurian said.
A spokesman for County Executive Rob Astorino could not immediately be reached.
After an earlier Town Board in New Castle approved the housing plans, the current New Castle administration has been fighting Conifer Realty’s plans to build the units on Hunts Place.
The county has argued it should get credit for the Chappaqua Station units because it passed the required financing in time. But Johnson said the approval was conditional on state variances that were not in place on Dec. 31.