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Harrison Makes Way for Affordable Housing March 2015
It’s a step in the right direction – a small step in terms of actual numbers, but a big one in terms of its significance. After months of contentious discussions with fair-housing advocates and support from the County Executive’s office, the Town of Harrison has finally agreed that 5 percent – or 7 units – of the 143 luxury apartments to be built in a mixed-use development near the Town’s Metro-North station will be designated as fair and affordable. The seven units represent the first affordable housing to be built in Harrison since the mid-1980s and will target working families with a representative income of up to $56,000 per year for a three-person household.
The development, which is the first of three projects planned to ultimately bring more than 600 market-rate apartments in the downtown area of the Town, is to be constructed on property owned by the MTA, which had been under particular fire by the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition. Comprised of more than a dozen members as varied as the Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, Community Housing Innovations, the White Plains/Greenburgh NAACP and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, among others, the Coalition had pressed the MTA and its selected developer for months to designate at least 10 percent of the units as affordable in the final number. Nevertheless, even with strong support from the County, which will contribute $1 million to subsidize the seven affordable units, supporters had to be satisfied with the 5 percent.
The League of Women Voters of Westchester, long a proponent of fair and affordable housing, applauds the efforts of the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition and the support of the County Administration in achieving this important step forward. It is our hope the Coalition, building on its success with the MTA and its developer, will be even more successful in achieving its goal of including 10 percent of the proposed units as affordable in its negotiations with Harrison’s other two developers, whose projects will add 463 more apartments in the downtown area in the near future. Such a move could put Harrison ‘on the map’ for the right reasons and make its residents proud.
Above, the League's forum on the Housing Settlement Agreement held in Sept. 2013
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ) about the Westchester Housing Settlement Agreement
How and why was the Housing Settlement Agreement (HSA) signed?
The Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro NY (ADC) commenced a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York under the False Claims Act alleging that the County had failed to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH) while applying for and accepting Federal funds that required such action. After court rulings that were adverse to the County, HUD stepped in and negotiated with the County. Then, in August 2009, the Court issued a Stipulation and Order of Settlement and Dismissal, or Consent Decree. The decree is popularly referred to as the Housing Settlement Agreement or HSA.
Faced with the potential of up to $180 million in Court-imposed fines, then-County Executive Andrew Spano signed the HSA. And after extensive public debate, the Board of Legislators (BOL) approved it in September 2009.
What are the provisions of the HSA?
The HSA requires that by December 31, 2016, the County develop 750 units of fair and affordable housing in 31 municipalities referred to as “eligible.” According to the 2000 census, the majority of these communities had an African- American population of less than 3% and a Hispanic population of less than 7%.
The agreement also requires that:
-- the County produce an Analysis of Impediments (AI) to fair housing due to racial discrimination and develop an Implementation Plan (IP) to remedy the situation. The IP is to include a model zoning ordinance providing for inclusive housing in Westchester’s 43 municipalities. In the event a municipality fails to promote the HSA’s goals, the County is to initiate litigation “as appropriate.”
-- the County produce marketing plans for the new AFFH units.
-- the County approve source-of-income legislation banning property owners from refusing to accept prospective renters whose income derives from government vouchers (for disabilities, veterans’ benefits, etc.).
-- And the Court specified that a monitor be appointed to implement and enforce compliance with the settlement.
How are the new housing units to be allocated among the targeted communities?
There is no required distribution among the 31 “eligible” municipalities in the Housing Settlement Agreement.
How are residents of the new housing units to be chosen?
At least 50% of the AFFH units must be rental housing, while up to 50% of the AFFH units could be made available for homeownership. At least 20% of the rental units are to be affordable to and occupied by households with incomes at or below 50% of Area Medium Income (AMI), with the remainder of these units affordable to and occupied by households with incomes at or below 65% of AMI.
The ownership units are to be affordable to those whose adjusted family income equals 80% of the AMI when no more than 33% of their income is used for principal, interest, taxes, insurance and condo fees where applicable, based on a no more than 40-year fixed-rate mortgage with a down payment of 5%. No more than 25% of the AFFH units can be deed-restricted for senior-citizen occupancy, and this only after a certain number of non-senior units have been provided for.
In the end, a lottery determines which applicants are selected in a given AFFH development.
What is the cost of the agreement to the County?
The County has had to pay $21.6 million into its Housing & Urban Development (HUD) account for settlement of claims and an additional $30 million into the county budget for AFFH. This $51.6 million represents a cap on the County’s financial obligation. The Court awarded $2.5 million to the ADC for attorneys’ fees, along with an additional $7.5 million in compensation. The County must also pay any fines levied by the Court for failure to adhere to the HSA’s terms, as well as the legal fees and expenses of the Court-appointed Monitor and his advisors, as prescribed within the terms of the HSA.
What is the role of HUD?
HUD funds were the ones about which the County allegedly made false claims. These included millions of dollars in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and currently also involve federal remediation funding for storms and other disasters affecting communities. After the Federal Court decision in favor of the ADC in 2009, HUD stepped in to offer an alternative to the fines then threatened by the decision against the County, and that alternative became the HSA (at which point the ADC was no longer a party to the action). Upon approval by the County, HUD became a signatory to the original agreement. Since it is charged with recommending the monitor and has the power to withhold or withdraw Federal funds committed to the County’s municipalities through CDBG and/or other grants, the Department plays an indirect role in ensuring County compliance with the HSA’s terms.
Who is the Monitor and what is his role?
James E. Johnson is a partner in the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and is considered a compliance specialist. The Court appointed him upon HUD’s recommendation and with the County’s agreement. He does not represent HUD. The County pays him on a basis prescribed by the Agreement, but it cannot dismiss him.
The Monitor is directly responsible for ensuring that the County complies with the HSA’s requirements, as outlined above. He must make periodic written reports to the Court and the Federal government on the County’s progress, and he must work to resolve disputes between the parties to the HSA. He can modify certain specified aspects of the agreement, but he cannot change its terms.
Prepared by the League of Women Voters of Westchester, September 2013
This FAQ was prepared by the League of Women Voters of Westchester (LWVW) for the information and convenience of the audience. It should not be construed as a legal document. The LWVW takes responsibility for any errors of fact or interpretation.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS:
ADC -- Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro NY
AFFH -- Affirmatively Further Fair Housing
AMI -- Area Median Income
BOL -- Board of Legislators
CDBG -- Community Development Block Grants
HUD -- U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development
HSA -- Housing Settlement Agreement
Download the above FAQ of 091613
Karen Schatzel and League of Women Voters Honored by Westchester Community Foundation December 2012
Irvington resident Karen Schatzel, Vice President and Housing Committee Chair of the League of Women Voters of Westchester, was the recipient of the 2012 Circle of Giving Award from the Westchester Community Foundation at its recent holiday annual recognition event. The award – the first to be given to a volunteer -- included a $10,000 grant to the LWV Westchester for its on-going work as the coordinating body for the 10 local Leagues within the County.
The citation stated that “Ms. Schatzel has demonstrated courage and leadership in guiding the League’s efforts to push for compliance with the 2009 housing settlement entered into between the County and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Through Ms. Schatzel’s efforts, the League continues to call for all parties concerned to put confrontational politics aside and to work together toward the goal of promoting fair and affordable housing in Westchester. The League’s long tradition of nonpartisanship ensures that it will continue to be a trusted resource on this contentious issue.”
Ms Schatzel accepted the award on behalf of the League, saying “None of this work would have been possible without the generations of League members who have worked consistently to advocate for and promote fair and affordable housing, including such Westchester League luminaries as Martha Greenawalt, Lois Bronz, Jean Pollak and Kathy Sundaram, to name just a few.” As chair of the League’s Housing Committee for the past 10 years, Ms. Schatzel acquired an in-depth knowledge of affordable housing that included attendance at innumerable meetings of the County Legislature and the County Housing Opportunity Commission.
The citation also noted Ms. Schatzel’s “long and distinguished career in community service.” Among the organizations in which she has served are the boards of Abbot House, the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, the Irvington Historical Society and the Board of Education of the Abbott School. She currently serves on the Board and chairs the Committee on Directors of the Louis August Jonas Foundation and is President of the Fortnightly Club, a social organization in Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and Irvington. In addition, she has been an active volunteer with Historic Hudson Valley since 1997.
Having spent much of her earlier career with the former Ciba-Geigy Corporation in Ardsley, NY until its 1997 merger created Novartis, Ms. Schatzel enjoyed a second career as Coordinator of the Volunteer Program for the Greyston Foundation in Yonkers, NY.
As part of the Circle of Giving Award, the Westchester Community Foundation’s unrestricted grant of $10,000 to the LWV Westchester will be used to further the League’s mission of promoting informed citizen participation in government. The LWVW has also received grants from the Foundation for other activities, including publication of the Voters Guide, its recent “Running and Winning” leadership conference for teen girls, and the Fair Campaign Practices Committee, which was begun and continues to be administered by the League.
Photo above: left to right: Catherine Marsh, Executive Director, Westchester, Community Foundation; Matthew G. McCrosson, Chair, WCF Board of Advisors; Karen Schatzel, recipient of the WCF 2012 Circle of Giving Award; and Sharon Lindsay, president of the League of Women Voters of Westchester
LWV Westchester Issues Statement on the Westchester County Fair and Affordable Housing Controversy addressed to the County Executive, HUD, and the Board of Legislators May 12, 2013 (download pdf)
download Journal-News Community View 5-17-13 pdf
As the debate continues regarding the 2009 Housing Settlement Agreement, the League of Women Voters of Westchester, long a supporter of fair and affordable housing, feels compelled to comment. We are hopeful that our perspective will have some positive influence in moving efforts forward among the principals — County Executive Robert Astorino, the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department (HUD) and the Board of Legislators (BOL) – and to that end, we offer the following comments.
The County Executive. The League sees merit in certain arguments of County Executive Astorino. He did not create the situation that led to the anti-discrimination lawsuit against the County; the previous administration did that in asserting, in applications for Federal funding, that it had adequately promoted fair and affordable housing when it had not. Mr. Astorino has correctly observed that ethnic diversity has been growing quite naturally in Westchester. He might have a point when he claims that a legal ban on landlords failing to accept renters who receive government vouchers, disability payments and/or other forms of non-employment income (so-called source-of-income discrimination) exposes landlords to legal action. And he argues correctly that HUD has moved beyond the “four corners” of the 2009 agreement.
But as County Executive, Mr. Astorino is responsible for honoring the commitments of his office and the County. He is the one who vetoed source-of-income legislation passed in 2009 after long, painful discussion by the BOL, and he is the one who needed to take the initiative on this issue. Nevertheless, it was only in the face of a threat of Contempt from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that he finally did so on April 26, 2013, sending the legislation to the BOL and saying he would sign it if it passed.
Furthermore, in six attempts, despite numerous sessions with the Department, his administration has failed to develop a dialogue with HUD that could break the deadlock on the Analysis of Impediments. His contentious rhetoric and litigious approach have also hardened HUD’s position and contributed to a backlash contrary to the interests of Westchester taxpayers.
HUD. In its efforts to affirmatively further fair and affordable housing (AFFH) for minorities in Westchester, HUD has a worthy goal, one long supported by the LWVW. We also recognize that by becoming a party to the Housing Settlement Agreement, HUD in effect saved the County from the potentially crippling fines then threatened by the Court.
But HUD has shown little understanding of the constitutionally-based home rule in New York State whereby local communities control their zoning. HUD has also shown almost no interest in acquainting itself with Westchester’s highly diverse landscape and regional challenges. In the developed communities of the south, there is little or no land available which is suitable for multi-family development. In much of the north, physical limitations include lack of infrastructure for wastewater and sewage removal, dependence by many residents on wells and septic fields, vast areas of watershed land controlled by New York City, and limited public transportation. Under the guidance of New York City-based advisers, HUD seems to be following a paradigm ill-suited to the realities of our county.
HUD also has ignored the progress made through the County Planning Department’s efforts. Although HUD has acknowledged that it has gone beyond the original parameters of the HSA, it continues to raise the ante, most recently seeking even more extensive local zoning data and a plan for change by an unrealistic date. Its policies try to push the County toward litigation against communities targeted in the Agreement. This disagreement over zoning matters currently threatens to cost the County $7.4 million in 2011 Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) destined for projects underway in untargeted municipalities and for financing the employment of the very employees who are helping to promote AFFH in compliance with the settlement agreement. Ultimately, denial of those CDBG funds – now extending through 2013 – could cost Westchester communities $17 million, whether or not the municipalities affected are among the 31 “eligible” communities cited in the HSA.
Board of Legislators. The BOL did pass a ban on source-of-income discrimination in 2009. To be fair, it has been largely kept out of the information loop on crucial matters relating to AFFH and has had to plead for administration representatives to give it timely information for the bilateral decision-making required in the Agreement.
But in 2010, the Board failed to override the administration’s veto, and until recently – in the face of HUD’s threat to hold back CDBG funds – it has remained remarkably passive on the issue. As a body, the legislators have limited themselves to the only things on which they can agree: (1) that the County should not have to pay more than the $51.6 million agreed to in 2009 to produce 750 new units, and (2) that the County should not have to sue municipalities to achieve the compliance required by the HSA. The BOL could have been more assertive sooner in demanding that the administration make it an equal partner in the process. However, recently some legislators have spoken up fervently in favor of an end to discriminatory practices that may have been followed in the County and may linger in certain areas, while others have raised tentative questions about the administration’s handling of the issue.
The BOL now has source-of-income legislation before it. And the LWVW strongly urges that body to avoid the temptation to water it down rather than passing it quickly in its present form to get this issue behind us.
What to do? The LWVW suggests:
That, finally having put forward source-of-income legislation, the County Executive proceed, after the Board of Legislators acts, to sign it and that he positively promote AFFH consistent with the aims set out in the Stipulation and Agreement.
That HUD acknowledge the increasing potential for affirmatively furthering fair and affordable housing in Westchester created through the extraordinary efforts of the County Planning Department. HUD should also recognize that its demands beyond the original agreement not only expose all county taxpayers to burdensome new costs, but strengthen the resistance of some residents to the worthy goals of the Agreement.
That the BOL expeditiously approve source-of-income legislation and press harder for full partnership to ensure that the County promotes and adheres to the terms and spirit of the Agreement.
Earlier Information about Housing
Fair and Affordable Housing Forum Feb. 29, 2012, in Bedford
Everything you want to know about fair and affordable housing was discussed at a community forum in Bedford Hills with introductory remarks by Town of Bedford Supervisor Lee V. A. Roberts. Panelists included
James E. Johnson, Federal Housing Monitor; Janet Hostetler, US Department of Housing & Urban Development; Mary Mahon, Special Assistant to County Executive Astorino;
Norma Drummond, Deputy Commissioner of Planning Department; Thomas McGrath, Chairman, Blue Mountain Housing Development Corporation;
William G. Balter, Wilder Balter Partners Inc.; and Moderator: Peter B. Harckham, Legislator, 2nd District.
League Statement on Fair and Affordable Housing Dec. 12, 2011
To: James E. Johnson, Esq., Monitor
Jay Golden, Region 11 Director, HUD (NY)
Robert P. Astorino, County Executive, Westchester County
Kenneth W. Jenkins, Chair, Board of Legislators, Westchester County
Please be aware that the League of Women Voters of Westchester has become increasingly concerned by the apparent heightened tension among the parties to the Fair and Affordable Housing Settlement Agreement executed by representatives of HUD and Westchester County in 2009 and approved by the US District Court.
In the hope that it would be productive, the League gave great thought to the attached Statement and wishes to submit it for your thoughtful consideration.
With best regards,
Chair, Housing Committee
Janet Zagoria, Chair
Betsy Weiner, Member
County Government Committee
Download the Statement
League Letter to the County Board of Legislators 9-18-09 on the Proposed Housing Settlement
Dear Mr. Ryan and Honorable Members of the Board of Legislators:
For many years, the League of Women Voters® at all levels – National, State and County
– has recognized the need for affordable housing and supported its creation. Based on
this support, the League of Women Voters® of Westchester has monitored and observed
all relevant housing entities, including the County’s Housing Opportunity Commission,
various committees of the County Board of Legislators, and local housing development
In doing so, we have come to commend the County’s energetic efforts for affordable
housing across the spectrum and throughout the County. This includes workforce
housing for the teachers, firefighters, police, municipal workers and others on whose
presence every community depends.
Since the 2007 filing of the lawsuit against the County by the New York City-based Anti-
Discrimination Center, the League of Women Voters® of Westchester also has monitored
all public discussion about it and, more recently, about the proposed Housing Settlement
Agreement negotiated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and
issued on August 10, 2009.
Having done so, we note that in past years, communities throughout Westchester have
benefited from funds from federal Community Development Block Grants for projects
ranging from open space preservation to senior centers and housing. Without approval of
this Agreement, all similar future projects could be in jeopardy.
With this background, the League has reviewed the Housing Settlement Agreement and
requests clarification of certain issues.
Paragraph 5 of the Agreement limits the County’s financial exposure from 2009 through
2014. The Agreement, however, fails to address or limit the County’s financial exposure
after the year 2014. The number of affordable housing units may not be reduced except as
set forth in paragraph 15(a)(vi) which allows for a reduction in the case where “further
extension of the time frames will not be sufficient to permit the possible satisfaction of
the County’s obligations.” It can be expected that over time and with sufficient funding
the units can be built. The League requests that future funding be determined so that the
County may accommodate such funding without an increase in taxes or debt over a
prudent amount. The League requests that the County request a side letter to the
Agreement to clarify the financial requirements for the duration of this Agreement.
The League has been a long-time supporter of the Fair Housing Act and rejects any
discrimination in housing on the basis of race or other protected classes as set forth in that
legislation. Absent any demonstrated discrimination, the League encourages the County
to request that the units contemplated under this agreement be offered to all classes in the
appropriate income groups. Affordable housing in Westchester County is in such short
supply that all income-eligible County residents should be able to benefit from a unique
opportunity to live in these affordable housing units.
Finally, in observing the governmental process, the League notes that this Agreement,
which affects municipalities throughout the entire county, has been negotiated without
any input from the County Board of Legislators, even though legislative approval of the
Agreement is legally required. During the preparation of the Agreement’s upcoming
implementation plan, the League urges greater collaboration between the Executive and
Legislative branches to achieve a result that reflects the same open, deliberative process
in which the legislators have been engaged in recent weeks.
The Executive Committee of the League of Women Voters® of Westchester County
supports the Housing Settlement Agreement with the above reservations and looks
forward to continuing to work with the County to successfully implement this accord.
cc: Members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, Westchester County Executive
The Honorable Andrew J. Spano
Download the letter (pdf file, 2 pages)