NORTH SALEM, N.Y. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino appeared Wednesday evening before a group of about 100 people at the Ruth Keeler Library, speaking briefly about his accomplishments and goals in office, then responding to questions from the audience.
Taxpayers asked about improvements to the Mountain Lakes Camp pool, the state of the countys infrastructure, the speed limit on June Road, maintenance issues along the Saw Mill River Parkway and the status of job growth in Westchester.
The topic of greatest concern, however, was the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Developments requirements for affordable housing, and its effect on North Salem.
Referring to a suit in which the county contested HUDs mandates in a court of law, Astorino, a Republican who took office in 2010, responded that his predecessor Andrew Spano, and county Legislator Peter Harckham decided to settle the lawsuit in 2009. When I got into office it was already a done deal, Astorino said. "The settlement says that, beginning in 2010, the county must build 750 units of fair and affordable housing over seven years in 31 eligible communities.
An eligible community was defined as one with an Hispanic population of seven percent or less, and an African-American population of three percent or less, based on 2000 census figures, Astorino explained.
In the 10 years since the 2000 census, theres been a 56 percent increase in Hispanic and African-American population in the 31 designated communities. Do you know how much it cost? Nothing. People naturally moved where they wanted to move. We are the fourth most diverse county in New York, behind the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Were tied with Manhattan.
Astorino said that HUDs view is, If youve accepted our money, youre giving us the right to come in and change your neighborhood. What they do in Westchester is what theyll do around the entire country. This is their grand experiment. I think those two words are frightening.
He added, The federal governments view is that zoning, such as restrictions on height, density, number of units, bedrooms, water or sewer, is a restriction on affordable housing and should be abolished. I feel that zoning is up to each municipality. We studied the zoning codes in every municipality and found no segregation. The federal government wants to decide who lives where. I dont agree with that.
Resident John Vassak said, Right now we have an application before the Planning Board for a community of 65 units on June Road. Theres another application in Purdys for a similar number. That would be over 100 units, more than 15 percent of the units required for the whole county.
Resident Pat Storino asked, Where does the county Board of Legislators stand on the affordable-housing issue?
Astorino replied, Today we are in a fight with the federal government. I am sitting there in court defending our right as a county and your right as a community under the guidelines of the state constitution. But there are ten Democrats and seven Republicans on the board. I have a county board chairman, majority leader and legislators who are sitting there defending HUD and siding with HUD. I dont get it. This should be the most non-partisan, bi-partisan issue we could ever have together as a Legislature.
Astorino added, Another thing I object to, but we have to do: specific in this settlement is that we have to spend about $400,000 advertising the housing to minority communities outside Westchester County. To me, thats absurd.
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