A playwright such as Shakespeare would have a field day with the tragedy that has come to be known as the affordable housing settlement.
One would have to be living in a cave somewhere in Westchester County, to not be aware that our federal government, yes the US government, is boldly seeking to eliminate some of the most fundamental rights we have as taxpaying citizens. They have determined that certain geographic areas that do not pass some arbitrary percentage for minorities must therefore be racist. The US government, through the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), “negotiated” with the prior County Executive Spano, that certain metrics in the form of principally 750 affordable housing units must be created within seven years. If Westchester County did not sign the agreement, then there were threats of fines as high as $500 million. So much for “negotiations”.
First and foremost, the agreement itself was very sloppily worded; the county is now dealing with the consequences. The agreement itself also stripped rights from voters and taxpayers. If HUD’s interpretation were to prevail, independent businesses in the form of property owners would be “obligated” (under the threat of litigation and penalties) to go into business with the government.
This past week a threatening letter which came from HUD was received that essentially could be labeled as a ransom letter. The essence is that if current County Executive Rob Astorino does not capitulate to their demands immediately, then $7 million that rightfully belongs to the Westchester taxpayers will be lost forever. Approximately 90% of that money, was to be given to Westchester municipalities that were not part of the 31 labeled “racist” communities (i.e. sufficiently diverse to HUD's standards).
This being campaign season, as to be expected, silly and stupid political rhetoric abounds. Several legislators have said, even if the county executive is right, he should still do what HUD is demanding. Fortunately, however, this country was built on laws. The premises of contract law are well-established. You may “wish” for something that's not in the contract, but you can't enforce concepts that are not in the contract. That is unless you're being a schoolyard bully, or in legal terms, blackmail.
Essentially HUD wants Westchester County to say that any zoning restrictions anywhere in Westchester County are discriminatory. Despite home rule, HUD wants Westchester County to agree to litigate against any municipality that does not effectively eliminate its zoning.
Isn't it interesting, that HUD is taking this extreme position in the midst of a campaign season for the next County Executive? Sounds a bit like the hardball Chicago politics we have heard associated with the Washington, DC executive branch. If one wasn't so cynical, one might even say that the US government, in the form of HUD, wants Westchester County to breach the affordable housing settlement. Much to HUD’s chagrin, Westchester County has exceeded every interim benchmark laid out to date. If Westchester County were to complete the 750 units on time, then they couldn't become the poster children of HUD's blackmail campaign for the rest of the country.
I, for one, am extremely proud that in Westchester County, we currently have a County Executive, Rob Astorino, who is standing up to the bully in the playground and says no. Come November Election Day keep that in mind.