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Addressing HUD’s Attacks on Westchester County

Reblogged with permission of our friends at The Westchester Report: Addressing HUD’s Attacks on Westchester County.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is picking a fight with Westchester County; in 2006 the Feds went after Westchester under the “False Claims Act of 1863”, and even though no fault was found with the County, in 2009 then Executive Andy Spano agreed to settle with HUD and build 750 “affordable” housing units. Then new County-Exec Rob Astorino came into office, and even though he is well ahead of the requirements of the settlement, HUD is still complaining about the County’s progress with the endeavor.

They have targeted Westchester’s zoning laws with a focus on racial discrimination. At “Ask Astorino” townhall meetings all around the County, Astorino has been telling residents about what HUD is demanding of him and providing the letters to prove it; and when you read these emails, it is full of scary and sometimes ridiculous demands and accusations.

Take for example the May 13th, 2011 letter from HUD to Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett, where HUD says:

“The County agreed to adopt a policy acknowledging “the location of affordable housing is central to fulfilling the commitment…because it determines whether such housing will reduce or perpetuate residential segregation…The data indicates that almost 54% of existing affordable housing units  are located in the racially concentrated areas of New Rochelle, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow, White Plains, and Yonkers. These municipalities are ineligible for the placement of the required 750 AFFH units.”

In other words, HUD wants more “affordable” housing units built for presumably minorities to live in (as evidenced by their concern over the reduction or perpetuation of “residential segregation”), and yet, they have told the County that they can’t build (supposedly) minority friendly housing in the areas where most minorities live. If you really think about it, it is a rather strange thing to demand. Not only because the federal government has no right to force counties to build any kind of housing or change zoning laws, but because it is illogical to build the housing away from where your target recipient is. What HUD fails to realize is that White Plains (for example), is actually a pretty sizeable city with all sorts of people from all kinds of races living in it. Building more houses in which (again presumably) minorities will reside, in a city such as White Plains, will do absolutely nothing to promote “segregation” at all.

But HUD’s claims and demands get even stranger (and worse); the following is from the March 13th, 2013 letter to Mr. Plunkett:

“…HUD provided the County with well-known Fair Housing Act case law. These cases provide legal basis for indentifying restrictive zoning practices that have exclusionary impacts on minorities and other protected classes, or where such practices create, perpetuate, or increase segregation…A zoning ordinance with a discriminatory effect violates the Fair Housing Act unless the municipality can prove that its actions “furthered, in theory and in practice, a legitimate bona fide governmental interest and that no alternative would serve the interest with less discriminatory effect.”

What HUD fails to realize is that zoning practices are not something that can be racially exclusionary to minorities, given that zoning laws detail WHAT can be built and not WHO can live there. For example, zoning practices can dictate that a skyscraper is not built in a residential neighborhood; residential zoning however cannot dictate that a certain racial group cannot live there. The only possible way that HUD can see zoning practices as being discriminatory, is if they say that a law dictating only single family homes be built in a certain area is discriminatory toward minorities; as if minorities are unable to obtain single family housing.

But the other problem with HUD’s statement rests on one single phrase: “minorities and other protected classes.” By including this phrase, HUD exposes just how they view American citizens; as groups and classes, not as individuals and people. Our nation was founded on the protection of individuals and their liberty; the subjection of individuals to groups and classes disfigures the individual, and if anything does more to cause racial problems then stop them.

But there is one more question on that statement; what does it mean to be a protected class? After all, if there are such things as classes that are protected, then by default there must be classes that are not protected; and if you cater to the (supposed) needs of the protected class, are you not therefore discriminating against the classes that are not protected? It seems that in HUD’s rush to fight discrimination they are actually participating in discrimination against those classes which they don’t seek to protect.

HUD however, was not finished; as you may recall from above, Westchester is only required to build 750 units of affordable housing, and yet HUD is not happy with the fact that 750 is the amount that Westchester is building:

“The County’s “test” ignores…the consideration of regional needs and requirements.”

HUD then goes on to cite a 2004 study from Rutgers University which was commissioned by the County, but never adopted, as proof that Westchester is obligated to build more than 750 units:

“This assessment identified the need for an additional 10,768 affordable housing units by 2015. In its July 6th letter, the County stated that it was not required to consider this evidence because the Allocation Plan was not enacted into law, and because it has not been specifically incorporated into the Settlement. The Department disagrees.”

In other words; even though by law the County only has to build 750 units in accordance with the 2009 Settlement, HUD “disagrees” and believes that the County has to abide by a study of “housing needs” that was never made into law nor included into the settlement. To claim that Westchester needs to build more than the specified and agreed to amount because a non-adopted study says so, shows that HUD has very little concept of law, even though they are a Department of the federal government.

Although there are many more claims that can be examined, HUD makes two more against the County that cannot be described as anything other than ludicrous. On page five of the 2013 letter, HUD argues:

“The County also failed to include a strategy to overcome exclusionary zoning practices and proposed no zoning changes for eligible municipalities. The July 6,2012 letter states, at p. 5, that since there are no exclusionary zoning practices in Westchester County, it “cannot formulate a strategy to ‘overcome’ such provisions which have been found not to exist. This conclusion was non-compliant with the…request.”

So because Westchester could not come up with a strategy to overcome a non-existent barrier, HUD claims non-compliance with their wishes. This reaction by HUD is akin to the government going into Arkansas, and telling a family that they need to come up with a strategy to stop Polar Bears from living on their lawn. When the family responds and says; “we can’t come up with a strategy to keep Polar Bears off our lawn, because we’ve never had nor ever will have Polar Bears on our lawn”; the government replies with, “This is unacceptable!” It is pretty obvious to any rational thinker where HUD is making their mistake.

Finally, and laughingly, the last claim by HUD we will address is in regards to a specified amount of land on which the Department believes that Westchester should build affordable units. Page eight of the 2013 letter states:

“The County’s letter also states that 15 municipalities have districts with a minimum lot area of 50,000 square feet (1.1acre) or larger. The Zoning District Comparison chart shows that no ineligible municipality utilizes this mega-lot minimum zoning, suggesting a potential correlation between this type of zoning, and segregation. Rather than examining this correlation, the County offers potential justifications for this restrictive practice, stating that these municipalities are located in the New York City water supply watershed; and have topography and infrastructure limitations…Whether the County’s explanations are legally sufficient governmental purposes for the zoning ought to be considered after a review of whether the zoning is having a discriminatory effect…”

So essentially, HUD noticed areas of land that were not being used/considered for housing; and when questioned as to why they would not be used, the County informed the Department that the area can’t be used due to it being New York City’s water supply. After hearing this, HUD called the County’s reasons “potential justifications” and claims that it will have to be reviewed. The arrogance of HUD in this response is amazing, and sadly incompetent. If they can’t figure out why housing can’t be built in NYC’s water supply, one questions if they should be in a government position of power at all.

Fortunately, the County is fighting back against the intrusive and abusive actions of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with many municipality leaders responding contentiously to HUD’s Westchester Overseer, and Astorino personally fighting HUD on behalf of the people. For more information on the situation, see The Wall Street Journal’s article here, Newsday’s article here, or Astorino’s website here. You can also contact the County Executive at ce@westchestergov.com  

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