Guest Column: Time for Astorino to do his job

One sure sign that campaign season is here is that County Executive Robert Astorino is sowing fear regarding the federal fair housing settlement and making inflammatory statements that he knows are patently untrue. Were this merely campaign rhetoric it would be bad enough, but his failed approach to managing the housing settlement has cost the taxpayers of Westchester millions of dollars.

Two federal courts have found that Mr. Astorino is in “unambiguous breach” of the federal housing settlement, resulting in the Department of Housing and Urban Development to withhold $7.4 million in CDBG funding slated for Westchester communities. They have also steered storm relief funding to the state, rather than the county, to distribute. Should the county not come back into compliance, fines and the original suit penalties could ensue, costing the taxpayers of Westchester hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yet rather than work constructively with the federal government to bridge the divide, the county executive chooses highly choreographed events like the state of the county address or his recent “town hall” meeting in Lewisboro to spread disinformation and sow fear. So concerned is the federal government about Mr. Astorino’s campaign of disinformation that on May 31, the deputy secretary of HUD, Maurice Jones, sent a letter to the County Board of Legislators refuting the county executive’s false claims. Mr. Jones then appeared in Westchester in person on June 4, to again refute the county executive’s statements.

Mr. Astorino contends that the federal government now wants the county to build 10,000 affordable housing units instead of the 750 units agreed to in the settlement. False. The 10,000 figure was arrived at in a study done by Rutgers University over a decade ago as a goal for the housing needs of Westchester. HUD has used that figure in discussions with the county with regard to future policy discussions but not in any way linked to the settlement. Said Jones, “HUD is not requiring the county to build this number units, but to use this study as a tool to examine how the eligible communities are contributing to meet the regional needs. Such an examination does not equate to a new funding mandate.”

Mr. Astorino also claims that the federal government is trying to dismantle local zoning in Westchester. False. Mr. Jones wrote, “HUD has never suggested that the county must ‘dismantle’ zoning in any neighborhood.” What the federal government wants is an acceptable analysis of impediments to fair and affordable housing. This request is not ‘outside the four corners’ of the settlement as the county executive has often asserted. It is one of the central elements of the settlement and one of the requirements of any municipality accepting CDBG funding. This is also one of the two issues that the courts have cited Mr. Astorino for being out of compliance with the settlement.

To be sure, there are those individuals in the federal government who do not understand the unique obstacles to any housing development in northern Westchester, luxury or affordable — namely, the lack of large-scale wastewater treatment or municipal water. As in any negotiation, these issues should be dealt with constructively, not confrontationally.

Yet while Mr. Astorino spins his web of disinformation, he fails to share the positive developments. To date, over half of the total units the settlement calls for have funding in place and the county has already met the 2013 benchmarks. It should be noted that no county funding is committed until all local permits and approvals are in place. Further, more than two-thirds of the applicants signing up through the county website are already Westchester residents. If income qualified, local residents have the same opportunity through lottery to this housing as anyone else.

Elected officials have the obligation to lead constituents through difficult challenges, not to sow fear and misinformation. It is time for the county executive to stop playing his dangerous game of chicken with the federal government and start being the statesman he was elected to be. The stakes for the residents of Westchester are too grave for him to deliver less.

Peter Harckham is the Westchester County Legislator for District 2, which includes Lewisboro and Katonah.

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  • Jonathan Stein

    Mr. Harckham it is time to do YOUR job and represent the people of Your district and not be the hand maiden of the down county political machine. Maybe if you were doing YOUR job and not kissing up to ex County Executive Andy Spano OUR County would not be in this situation. If you were doing YOUR job and not looking the other way when the county accepted HUD block grants and then used the money for which it was not intended, this would be a moot point.

    I have researched your involvement in this debacle and found you to be the duplicitous politician you surely are. Before the settlement you were against it and then at the last minute you changed your vote in favor of the settlement. This flip flop was right around the time of your first re-election campaign. What a coincidence.

    It is a shame you are not the kind of Democratic legislator like Mike Kaplowitz from Somers who puts his constituents wellbeing first before political expediency and self-preservation. He is what makes me proud to be a Democrat. You are what make our party and politicians in general the sleaze bags many people perceive them to be.

    In further researching your career have you ever had a real job? A county legislator position is part time, what do you do the rest of the day? I think your lack of financial independence is a major factor in saying and doing anything to keep yourself in power at the expense of the people in your district. Your total lack of character is enough for a sober man to be driven to drink.

    Mr. Harckham a Democrat is known for integrity, you are in the wrong party.

    • Jonathan Stein

      The last sentence is missing a comma it shoud read:

      Mr. Harckham, a Democrat is known for integrity, you are in the wrong party.

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