Westchester legislators debate response to latest court ruling on housing settlement

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At a meeting of the Government Operations Committee of the Westchester Board of Legislators Tuesday, a discussion with planning staff and others about progress implementing the county housing settlement morphed into a debate over how the county board should respond to a recent court ruling finding the county had breached the settlement.

Last Thursday U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote ruled that the county had violated the settlement when County Executive Rob Astorino vetoed legislation requiring landlords to accept Section 8 and other public sources of income from renters. Astorino said he will appeal.

Democratic Legislator Bill Ryan likened the source-of-income legislation to a tree across the road and said it needs to be cleared.

“I think what we need to do as a board is decide what action we are going to take,” Ryan said.

Astorino’s chief of staff, George Oros, expressed frustration with Westchester’s federal representatives, except for U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth, for not putting pressure on HUD to release millions in block grants being withheld from the county to try to force compliance.

“It seems as though HUD is setting us up to fail,” Oros said.

But Ryan and other Democrats said it’s the county that’s creating the problem by failing to implement source-of-income legislation.

“This is right smack in the middle of the road and it’s blocking our progress,” Ryan said.

Democratic Legislator Judy Myers said it’s disingenuous to blame federal officials and HUD.

“It’s like a child looking to blame someone else,” she said.

Republican Legislator Bernice Spreckman said working it out has to be a two-way street.

“One thing I hate, I hate to be threatened,” she said.

Democratic Legislator Alfreda Williams said the county has no choice but to pass the legislation.

“It will come down to the fact that it’s the county’s fault,” she said.

Republican Legislator Michael Smith said the question of the county’s responsibility on source of income is still in the courts.

“The reality is there are people who want to live within their own communities,” he said.

Ryan warned the legislators not to take Judge Cote’s decision lightly.

“This is not mid-level managers in HUD,” he said. “This is the federal judge.”

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