The responsibility for moving ahead on legislation outlawing discrimination against renters based on the type of income they use to pay rent lies with both the county executive and the Board of Legislators, the monitor overseeing the 2009 Westchester fair housing case said Monday.
Jim Johnson, the monitor and a lawyer at Debevoise & Plimpton, said the string of court decisions on so-called source-of-income legislation add to the settlement’s requirement that the county executive promote the legislation. Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that the county had breached the settlement when County Executive Rob Astorino vetoed the legislation in 2010.
“The court has spoken many times since then and that is part of the law of this case,” Johnson said at a committee meeting of the Board of Legislators Monday.
The court was clear that the responsibility lies with the county as a whole, he said.
“The court talked about the county not shirking its responsibility and it wasn’t actually addressed just to the county executive,” he said. “It was the county’s.”
The decisions say the county executive must ask the board to reintroduce the legislation, provide information to help the board analyze it and sign it if passed. Johnson said the courts considered that the bare minimum. The exact process is not explicit, he said, but the orders contemplate that there will be a process that results in legislation. If the board introduced legislation, in the eyes of the courts it would be taking on responsibility instead of shirking it, he said.
Source-of-income legislation is one of several issues that have become sticking points in the implementation of the settlement, which requires the county to build 750 units of affordable housing in mostly white communities and take steps to break down obstacles to fair housing.
Board Chairman Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers, said the board’s position was laid down in a resolution passed last year asking Astorino to send down legislation. He said the way forward will be discussed in a leadership meeting. Astorino asked the board to reintroduce the legislation last year when threatened with contempt of court but Jenkins took no action.
After Johnson left, the legislators debated what action they needed to take now to move the legislation. Legislator Bill Ryan said it would be helpful if the county executive would spell out what he’d like to see in the legislation as a way to form a working partnership with the board.
“This isn’t a unilateral project that the board takes up,” said Legislator Bill Ryan. No one wants to pass legislation Astorino will veto, he said.
“He needs to be a participant and then we get the thing done,” Ryan said.
Legislator Gordon Burrows, R-Yonkers, said the issue shouldn’t be political because it comes down to costing the taxpayer. The legislation doesn’t have to start with the administration, he said.
“We have to pass legislation and to shirk it upon either body isn’t right,” he said. “And I think it’s ridiculous reading newspapers, both the ninth floor (the administration) and the eighth floor (the Board of Legislators) lobbing tennis balls back and forth at one another.”
The board and the monitor Monday also discussed Johnson’s initiative to provide resources to developers and municipalities to improve the design of the 750 units and Johnson’s analysis of municipal zoning, which is expected to be presented in the coming weeks.
The video of the meeting is available here.
Photo: Federal housing monitor James Johnson speaks during a press conference with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino Feb. 16, 2010 in White Plains after they had a meeting regarding the housing implementation plan, which Johnson said needed more work. Also pictured, Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett and newly appointed Mary Mahon, senior assistant to county executive. (Tania Savayan / The Journal News)