HUD Drops Obama-Era Fight With New York County Over Local Zoning Laws

Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — The new leadership at the Department of Housing and Urban Development finally accepted an analysis of fair housing opportunities in Westchester County, New York, after the Obama administration had denied the analysis 10 times before.

Obama’s HUD claimed that some county zoning laws were racially exclusionary.

The analysis was required as part of a settlement from a 2009 lawsuit that alleged that the county had lied when it said it had analyzed issues that could block access to affordable housing. The analysis had determined that there were “no evidence of exclusionary zoning across Westchester,” according to the office of Westchester County Executive Director Rob Astorino, who came into office after the settlement was reached.

“As a right in one zoning code there were permitted uses for multi-family housing and affordable housing of different forms. And we utilize their zoning codes to find properties and to build good rehab, and so there was no way we could get it done. It wasn’t permitted and you know that was the stupidity of all this that their argument for federal government was that it wasn’t permitted,” Astorino told The Daily Caller in and exclusive interview.

“HUD had taken the novel and aggressive view that routine zoning measures, such as limits on height, density, number of bedrooms and sewer requirements to protect drinking water were ‘restrictive practices’ and demanded that the county go as far as suing local municipalities to end them,” Astorino said. (RELATED: Federal Officials Push To Urbanize Suburbia Under New HUD Regulation)

Under a Republican White House, Westchester County no longer finds itself under the gun.

Jay Golden, HUD’s regional administrator of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, told Astorino’s office that the county’s analysis has “been deemed acceptable.”

“This is vindication for Westchester County and our local municipalities and a victory won on facts and principles,” Astorino said in a statement. “From the beginning, my administration has been committed to meeting the county’s obligations under the settlement. But we also said that we were not going to be bullied by HUD into doing things that were not in the settlement. HUD had no legitimate reason to intrude into local zoning, and we stood firm on that. In the end, we were able to successfully defend the constitutional principle of home rule and meet the requirements of the settlement. It wasn’t easy, but everyone in Westchester can be very proud of the outcome.”

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April that Westchester “is engaging in total obstructionism” for not complying with the mandates of the 2009 settlement.

“Zoning was keeping people of color out when it’s just the opposite–that we’ve had a vast increase in the number of black and Hispanic in Westchester over the course of the last 15 years without a settlement,” Astorino said.

He explained, “People were starting to understand how crazy HUD had become with what they considered to be restrictive zoning which included you know height restrictions in a community the availability of water or sewer, number of bedrooms, acreage. All of that stuff which is in standard zoning around the country in HUD’s view including even down to a quarter acre single family lot is considered restrictive and exclusionary, which you know in the real world people think that’s insane what they were what they were claiming.”

Westchester has met the settlement’s requirement for having the financing and construction permits for 750 units of affordable housing in largely white suburban communities, moving forward with its $1 million “One Community” marketing campaign on the “benefits of diversity” and affordable housing.

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