As the federal government and the monitor overseeing Westchester County’s 2009 fair housing settlement work out their differences over a zoning analysis required by the agreement, Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz reaffirmed his support of the monitor’s approach Wednesday.
And Kaplowitz pushed back against the call by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove any language from the analysis that puts towns in the clear.
“HUD cannot keep forever and ever a microscope on these communities,” Kaplowitz said.
Kaplowitz said the monitor, Jim Johnson of Debevoise & Plimpton, was the “one entity acting completely reasonably.”
“The monitor is who we stand with,” he said. “The monitor gave us a path to victory.”
HUD objected to statements that might be taken as clearing the towns of liability under the Fair Housing Act as beyond the scope of the analysis. They could also be used as evidence in future court cases, HUD said. HUD asked Johnson to withdraw those parts of the analysis.
Johnson responded that HUD was creating an issue that didn’t exist because he has said the report is not binding nor is it final. Kaplowitz said he has asked HUD to change its position on that point.
“We’re saying an absence of exclusionary zoning means they do not have exclusionary zoning,” Kaplowitz said.
HUD’s request was part of a larger critique of Johnson’s analysis that has put a wrench in the already difficult efforts by the Board of Legislators to complete the analyses required by the settlement and put a stop to the loss of federal grants. The job of completing the analysis belongs to the executive branch under County Executive Rob Astorino, but in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign he has stopped any efforts to cooperate with HUD.
Johnson’s analysis found six towns had zoning that potentially violated fair housing law by perpetuating segregation or excluding minorities. In the second half of the analysis, which was underway until HUD’s letter, towns have the opportunity to offer legal justifications of their zoning.
The analysis has become the most intractable part of the settlement of a 2006 lawsuit initiated by the Anti-Discrimination Center, but is only one piece. The county must also help build 750 units of affordable housing and take other steps to promote fair housing.
Some advocates think Johnson has gone too easy on many towns, absolving them of exclusionary zoning when they have built little if any affordable housing and provide little chance for new affordable units.
Photo: Jim Johnson