County Legislator Judy Meyer’s presentation of the Westchester County affordable housing settlement agreement held center stage at the Village of Larchmont Board meeting on September 14.
Also on the lengthy agenda were an assortment of money matters, including soaring pension costs, potential cuts in state aid, possible payments for the assessor and increased parking permit rates. (See accompanying article: VOL: Pension Costs Soar, Parking Rates Rise.)
The Housing Lawsuit Explained
The Suit: Ms. Meyers said the agreement entered into by Westchester County with the federal government is to settle a lawsuit originally brought by the Anti- Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc.
“The plaintiffs claim that by building [affordable housing with federal fund] where large numbers of African Americans and Hispanics already live, the County has been contributing to segregation,” explained Ms. Myers. There are 1200 other counties in the US in the same boat, she said. “The plaintiffs could continue throughout the country with these suits. We’re the first.”
The County believes it was in compliance, said Ms. Myers, but is settling to avoid additional legal expenses and the risk of even larger penalties.
What Would Be Required: Within 7 years, Westchester would be required to develop at least 750 affordable housing units, most of it in communities with an African American population of less than 3% and a Hispanic population of less than 7%. “The Village of Larchmont and the Town of Mamaroneck minus the Village of Mamaroneck are included in that group,” said Ms. Meyers.
At least 50% must be rental and the rest can be ownership units. Affordable housing for seniors will not qualify unless at least 175 non-senior units are provided. And no more than 90 senior units may be built until 350 non-senior units are developed.
The number of units required of each community named in the agreement has yet to be determined.
What About the Costs? Westchester would pay $30 million into a federal account, of which $21.6 million would be available to the County to develop the affordable housing. The County would also pay $2.5 million for the plaintiffs’ legal fees. In addition, the County would spend an additional $30 million in years 2009-2014 for affordable housing.
Ms. Meyers pointed out, “Along with voting to approve this settlement agreement, the legislators will be asked to vote on issuing bonds for the $30 million.”
The Plan: Within 90 days of approving the settlement, Westchester would be required to submit an implementation plan to the federal monitor, who would have the right to amend some of the requirements.
Board members said they have long been mindful of the need to build more affordable housing; they have required that such units be included in recent proposals for apartment development. However, they worried that municipalities may be obligated to modify their zoning and land use policies to assist with the settlement.
“It is unclear,” said Ms. Meyers, “that the County has the authority to compel municipalities to take such action.”
Asked how the County could ensure that minority applicants will come forward to apply for the new affordable units, Ms. Myers said, “They require that we advertise more broadly in areas with large African-American and Hispanic populations. Then we would probably have to use a lottery system.”