WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Republican candidates have kicked off their campaigns by criticizing the Democratic Westchester County legislators they’re challenging for voting in the housing settlement and not supporting County Executive Robert Astorino in speaking out against the federal government’s implementation of the deal.
Susan Konig, who seeks to represent Mount Pleasant, Pleasantville and North Castle, said incumbent legislators have been quiet about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s request that Westchester force local municipalities to alter zoning laws considered antagonistic to affordable housing.
“New York is a home rule state that protects the zoning rights of local municipalities. It’s outrageous that our own legislators voted in favor of an agreement that threatens property rights and local control of our communities,” Konig, who serves on the county’s planning board, said in a statement. “The voters need to hold them accountable in November.”
The Republican challengers argued that the August 2009 settlement requiring Westchester to build 750 units of affordable housing in predominately white communities has become an expensive liability, since HUD began requesting that half of the units be three-bedroom homes.
Terrence Murphy, who is campaigning to represent Yorktown, New Castle and Somers, alluded to Astorino’s estimation that three-bedroom units may cost nearly double the $51.6 million Westchester agreed to spend on construction.
“The affordable housing settlement is the largest lawsuit in the history of Westchester County,” Murphy said in a press release. “As the highest-taxed county in the nation, we can no longer settle for politics as usual. Legislator Kaplowitz’s vote in favor of the settlement was a slap in the face to the middle class taxpayers.”
Democratic legislators said the three-bedroom request is not a requirement or serious disagreement between the county and HUD. Adolfo Carrión, the regional director of HUD for New York and New Jersey, has said that the federal government suggests, but does not demand, that Westchester make half of homes three-bedroom units.
Peter Harckham, the majority leader for the Democratic legislators, said voting for the settlement protected residents from large fines and the possibility of the federal government stepping in to design and construct housing in Westchester.
“This settlement saved taxpayers at a minimum of $200 or $300 dollars, and if the justice department and HUD decided to include false claims or go after the Community Development Act the fines could have gone as high as $50 billion,” Harckham (D- Katonah) said of the Anti-Discrimination Center’s lawsuit, which claimed Westchester violated the federal False Claims Act by accepting federal money for housing while insufficiently performing required analyses. “In the summary judgment motion, the judge found that the county falsely certified the fair claims. That’s the crux of the case. We had already lost that.”
Legislators would not support tampering with the “home rule” state law that gives local municipalities control over their zoning, according to Harckham.
County lawmakers have helped Westchester get a year ahead of schedule on implementing the settlement, according to Harckham, who said the legislators “work quite well” with Astorino on the settlement.
“We have had a unified front on implementing the housing settlement since the beginning,” said Harckham. “There are only two issues that are at stake with HUD now.”