On Monday March 16, 2015 at a Special Meeting of the Board of Legislators legislation was passed that enabled County Attorney Robert Meehan to amend the legal proceedings against the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The vote was unanimous. The court action is an attempt to recover approximately $17 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that were earmarked for Westchester County but reallocated outside of Westchester by HUD.
HUD had informed County Executive Rob Astorino that it would reallocate the CDBG funds because the County Executive had not submitted an “Analysis of Impediments (AI) acceptable to HUD
On behalf of the County Executive, the County Attorney petitioned Judge Denise Cote, who is presiding over the completion of the settlement, to overturn HUD’s decision to reallocate the CDBG funds. Judge Cote had ruled that HUD’s actions are not subject to judicial review. The County Executive and HUD have remained at an impasse regarding the AI.
“It is unfortunate that we have to go these lengths to try and recuperate funds that HUD had no right to withhold in the first place. The Court of Appeals decision that led us to this vote confirmed what the County Executive has been saying all along, HUD does not have the right to act with impunity. The reallocation of these funds from the communities and people that need them most was an arbitrary and capricious decision” – Legislator John G. Testa, Minority Leader.
On February 18, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District ruled on Westchester’s appeal that HUD’s actions were in fact, subject to judicial review. That ruling was the impetus for the legislation that was passed by the BOL on Monday.
BOL Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D) Somers, has tried to mediate a resolution to the impasse between the County Executive and HUD. This past year Chairman Kaplowitz was successful in getting HUD to delay the reallocation of the CDBG funds. Chairman Kaplowitz also appealed to Westchester’s Congressional Representatives and proposed to HUD that the CDBG funds be distributed to Westchester municipalities by New York State. On February 9th, Congresswoman Nita Lowey announced that HUD would release approximately $5 million in CDBG funds to the state, earmarked for Westchester communities. The state is working out the details of a competitive application process for those funds.
Following the vote, Chairman Kaplowitz said, “An important objective in dealing with HUD on the Affordable Housing Settlement has been to prevent the loss of the CDBG funds that are owed to Westchester County. While we have been successful in saving about $5 million that the State will administer, I am hopeful that the legislation we passed today will secure the release of additional CDBG funds meant for Westchester.” Kaplowitz added, “The recent ruling from the Court of Appeals provides Westchester County with an opportunity to petition the courts for our lost CDBG monies but more importantly, it is an opportunity for the County Executive and HUD to finally sit down and work out a compromise that will produce an acceptable AI. Losing the HUD funding is certainly something we want to avoid but remaining in a protracted standoff with HUD risks far greater penalties for Westchester County.”
Minority Leader, Legislator John Testa (R) Peekskill, Cortlandt, Yorktown, said, “The Republican caucus was happy to vote for this legislation. It is unfortunate that we have to go these lengths to try and recuperate funds that HUD had no right to withhold in the first place. The Court of Appeals decision that led us to this vote confirmed what the County Executive has been saying all along, HUD does not have the right to act with impunity. The reallocation of these funds from the communities and people that need them most was an arbitrary and capricious decision. Many of the municipalities that HUD sought to punish by reallocating the funds, like my hometown of Peekskill, aren’t even subject to the affordable housing settlement.”