Westchester County, U.S. argue over fair housing settlement at Court of Appeals

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Lawyers for Westchester County and the federal government took their arguments over a provision in the 2009 fair housing settlement to a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan today, the last stop in more than a year of fighting over legislation preventing landlords from rejecting tenants who use Section 8, Social Security or other non-salary income to pay rent.

The judges are not expected to issue a decision immediately. Today was set aside to hear short arguments from the lawyers backing up their long legal briefs on what is known as source of income legislation.

The settlement requires, among a long list of other things, that the county “promote, through the County Executive, legislation currently before the Board of Legislators to ban ‘source-of-income’ discrimination in housing.” But when the legislation came to his desk in 2010, County Executive Rob Astorino vetoed it.

Westchester County Attorney Robert Meehan reiterated his argument that the requirement to promote applied only to the legislation in front of the 2009 Board of Legislators and the obligation ended with the end of the legislative session. Moreover, the word promote did not compel Astorino to sign the legislation. Meehan also said the settlement can’t require the legislators to vote a certain way or the county executive to sign a particular piece of legislation.

“The county never consented to change the legislative system and process,” Meehan said.

Former County Executive Andrew Spano took care of the promotion requirement by sending letters in 2009 asking housing groups to push for passage of the legislation, Meehan said.

He faced some skepticism from the judges.

“You’re asking us to essentially agree vetoing is promotion?” asked Judge Peter Hall. Meehan acknowledged vetoing is not promoting but said that wasn’t the core of the issue.

Representing the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kennedy argued “currently” in the settlement meant the type of legislation in front of the board, not the time frame. He also disputed that Spano satisfied the requirement and said of Astorino: “In fact he didn’t promote it at all.”

The issue at the core of the dispute is the plain meaning of the word promote, Kennedy said.

Because the two sides disagreed over the interpretation of the source of income provision, they sought a ruling in 2011 from the monitor overseeing the housing settlement. The ruling was appealed up the federal court system from a magistrate to a district judge and now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The district court agreed with the government in a ruling in May and both it and the Court of Appeals denied the county a stay of the order. Under threat of contempt proceedings, County Executive Rob Astorino asked the Board of Legislators to reintroduce source of income legislation in August. But he still has not promised to sign it.

With source of income only one dispute over the implementation of the settlement, Astorino has made a major issue of  what he calls overreaching by HUD. But housing advocates have lamented what some argue is resistance to the settlement by the Astorino administration and the slow implementation of some provisions.

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  1. Why shouldn’t landlords be able to look at the source of where their payments will come from?

    Way too much government involvement.

    If the source of income legislation was that good, why not make it a law for all of NY? There’s no reason Westchester County should have its own law on this. Just makes it more confusing for investors.

  2. this is not the fight to have….andrew spano and the democratic board lied to the federal
    government about building affordable housing in return for monies which they accepted under
    false pretenses…this has nothing to do with anything in the present administrations’ control
    because it predated the astorino administration . it was spano who took the money and
    didn’t fulfill his part of the deal and he should still be taking the heat for it along with any
    democrat who was on the board at the time and that includes bill ryan who wants to run
    for county executive…yonkers faced a similar situation in the 80’s they thumbed their noses
    at the federal judge leonard sand, one of the most liberal jurists on the bench and instead
    of the settlement offered by the NAACP who brought the lawsuit which was only 200 units
    of low income housing on the westside of town abuting the saw mill river parkway with no
    mention of forced bussing once they got to the court and the judge weighed in the city was
    forced to build 4000 units of housing and forced bussing which was a disaster for everyone
    involved was implemented…..stay away from federal judges or you will pay an even higher
    price for flouting an agreement made by andrew spano….

  3. Reality: “stay away from federal judges or you will pay an even higher
    price for flouting an agreement made by andrew spano…”

    We cannot afford to cower in fear every time the fed-guv threatens us. The social and political climate has changed dramatically over the decades. Back in the 70s, people believed that there was no problem that big government could not solve; now they believe that there is no problem that big government does not cause.

    Section 8 with its $1000+ vouchers should be terminated entirely. How is it fair that a young working couple must struggle to pay a $1700 rent, while their neighbors who have the identical floor-plan unit only have to pay $300?

    (Back in the 1960s, apartment-living was actually considered inexpensive. Now all housing cost is too high).

    The only argument ever presented in Section 8’s favor is that many senior citizens benefit from the program, but what about the younger people who are being forced to move to less-expensive states? Do older citizens want to live in isolated geographic regions? What kind of future does Westchester County have if no younger people can afford to stay or move here, then settle down and raise families?

    Section 8 should not be allowed to bail out real estate investors: individual home-owners who cannot afford their mortgage can now rent out their house, and Section 8 pays not the going market-value rent, but an inflated government-established rent. Therefore, the community becomes de-stabilized; the neighborhoods lose cohesion, and all the houses in the near environs lose value.

    Our federal government does not seem to value stability much; indeed needless upset seems to be key operating principle of both our domestic and foreign policy; but all prosperity and security is built on stability. Westchester County took more than three centuries to build, and yet could be completely destroyed within less than 10 years to no one’s benefit.

    We need to get rid of Section 8, and let the free market bring everyone’s rent and housing costs down.