With the resolution this month of more than a year of legal wrangling between the federal government and Westchester County over legislation required by the 2009 fair housing settlement, the Board of Legislators is now planning to fast track the same version of the legislation that passed in 2010.
At a special meeting Wednesday, the Board of Legislators plans to set a public hearing for Monday on the so-called source-of-income legislation, which would prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants because they use government income such as Section 8 to pay rent. A vote could come as soon as the next regular board meeting on May 20.
“I think that there is a feeling that we’re kind of united with the county executive that we want to put this behind us,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining, whose committee has overseen the settlement for the board.
Borgia said because County Executive Rob Astorino said he would sign the legislation he sent to the board, legislators are inclined to make no changes.
County Executive Rob Astorino had fought the provision of the settlement that required the county executive to promote the legislation, arguing that former County Executive Andy Spano had satisfied the duty to promote. Astorino vetoed the legislation in 2010 after the board had spent a couple of years developing it, including adding compromises after discussions with landlords.
District Court Judge Denise Cote ruled in May that Astorino’s veto violated the settlement. On April 5, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld Cote’s decision.
After a long standoff between the administration and the board over who should reintroduce the legislation in response to the court orders, and after the U.S. attorney threatened to ask the court for a contempt order against the county, Astorino submitted the legislation to the Board on April 24.
“The reality is it helps the county executive to get this out of the way,” Borgia said.
Despite the progress on the legislation, James Johnson, the monitor overseeing the implementation of the settlement, has asked the county for all communications between the county executive and the Board of Legislators on source-of-income legislation after April 5. The information is due May 15.
If the board passed and Astorino signed the legislation, it would allow the county to check off one of the most long-fought provisions of the settlement. The county is still embroiled in a dispute with the federal government over an analysis of zoning. Millions of dollars are at stake.
Dennis Hanratty, the executive director of Mount Vernon United Tenants and a longtime advocate of source-of-income legislation, agreed the county should just get it done.
“With the clock ticking we don’t think there should be any back and forth on this stuff,” he said.
The legislation from 2010 now before the board would prohibit discrimination in the sale, rental or leasing of housing based on income such as disability payments and Section 8 vouchers. The types of income also include social security, public assistance, or private housing grants. But the law explicitly states that the landlord can use business judgement in not accepting a tenant.
Co-ops, condos and most four-family or smaller buildings are exempt. The potential fines top out at $50,000 while fines for other fair housing violations can reach $100,000. The law will expire in five years.
The legislation is intended to make it easier for people who rely on vouchers, disability payments or other such income to find a place to live. The committee memo supporting the legislation noted that a 2001 HUD study found that Section 8 voucher holders had a 12 percent higher placement rate where source-of-income legislation was in place. Jurisdictions with source-of-income legislation include Connecticut, Nassau County and New York City. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he supports the legislation at the state level.
Housing discrimination is already illegal based on race, religion, citizenship status, ethnicity, familial status, sexual orientation, disability and many other categories.
The vote in 2010 was 10-4, with nine Democrats and Legislator Jim Maisano, the Republican minority leader, voting yes. Two Democrats, Michael Kaplowitz and Marty Rogowsky, voted no. Five members from 2010 are no longer on the board.