Astorino-Michaelis Housing Settlement Distortion Is Shameful
County Executive and Peter Michaelis, have purposefully distorted the meaning
During this campaign, the County Executive and Peter Michaelis, have purposefully distorted the meaning and the facts of the federal housing lawsuit settlement adopted by the county two years ago and are advocating undoing the settlement. This is extremely irresponsible and reckless since we saved the taxpayers more than $250 million, preserved local control of our zoning laws and prevented the federal government from unwanted interference in our communities...and now Peter Michaelis and Rob Astorino want to undo it.
You may recall that the county was charged with falsely certifying that it was identifying and removing impediments to fair housing in return for Community Development Block Grant funds. These charges stemmed from long before I was on the Board of Legislators. The county lost six pretrial motions and on the motion for summary judgment, a federal judge ruled that the county had indeed falsely certified these claims. County attorneys, including a former Deputy Attorney General in the Bush Sr. Administration, advised the county that the chance to win at trial was nil. The potential cost to the taxpayers would have been daunting: a minimum of $300 million in penalties and untold amounts of housing to be built by the federal government in Westchester without county or local oversight (as happened in Yonkers).
To protect the taxpayers from this exposure and intrusion by the federal government, not to mention additional penalties from other claims that this settlement nullified (another $200 Million), I voted for a settlement that called for the county to support the construction of 750 units of workforce housing over seven years in two thirds of Westchester. This housing would be at the same income levels as all other housing supported by the county; 80% of area median income for home ownership (approximately $85,000) and 50% - 60% of area median income for rental units (approximately $55,000 - $60,000). Local employees, teachers, nurses and seniors would be eligible for these units. The terms of the agreement were clearly laid out in the stipulation agreement.
Yet the County Executive and the Peter Michaelis continue to propagate false information.
Myth: This settlement will bankrupt the county. Fact: Going to trial would have exposed taxpayers to more than $300 – and up to $500 million – in penalties. Under the terms of the settlement, the maximum exposure to the county is capped at $52 million – money that will stay in Westchester building housing and creating jobs. The Board received this guarantee from the Department of Justice in writing before the settlement was agreed to. Further, there is nothing in the settlement that forces the county to build three bedroom apartments in affluent school districts as was falsely stated by Astorino and Michaelis.
Myth: The settlement erodes home rule. Fact: Before any county funding is committed to affordable units, ALL local permits and approvals must be in place. Further, New York State law prohibits counties from building housing. Therefore, any housing built in compliance with the stipulation will be built by private developers in conjunction with local building, planning and zoning officials. Any funding expended must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Board.
Myth: The settlement allows HUD to force the county to sue local municipalities to overturn local zoning. Fact: The Board received confirmation in writing from the Department of Justice that HUD cannot force the county to sue municipalities.
Myth: This is “social engineering” that will bring quotas to housing and municipalities. Fact: This is not in any way an integration order. The only change to current housing policy is that units must be marketed fairly and affirmatively. There are no quotas for racial make up of units or quotas for towns on number of units. Local residents will still have equal opportunity for local units through a lottery system.
By working in what had been a bipartisan manner, the county is one and one half years ahead of schedule in implementing the settlement. Instead of sowing fear and misrepresenting the state of the settlement for political purposes, the County Executive should be striving to bring people together to achieve the terms of the settlement as soon as possible. It is shameful and divisive that Peter Michaelis has chosen to seize this as his signature issue, especially when breaking the settlement agreement would remove the taxpayer protections that we have negotiated and received in writing.