Westchester County continues to outpace expectations with 540 units of fair and affordable housing in the development pipeline – 72 percent of the way to meeting its commitment in the 2009 settlement with the federal government.
The latest progress appears in the county's 2011 fourth quarter report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the federal appointed monitor overseeing the settlement. Last month, the county announced that it was about a year ahead of schedule in meeting the settlement's fundamental benchmark of developing 750 units of affordable housing in 31 so-called eligible or mostly white communities over seven years. The quarterly report, which was completed last week, includes additional information, such as details about the units in the pipeline and the county's success in reaching out to prospective homebuyers and renters.
At the end of the 2011, the county had 206 housing units approved by the federal housing monitor – 182 with all financing in place and 108 with building permits in place. Under the terms of the settlement, which was entered into by former County Executive Andrew J. Spano and the Board of Legislators at the time, the county was only required to have 100 units with financing and 50 units with building permits by the end of 2011. The settlement calls for 200 units with financing and 125 with building permits by the end of 2012. With the strong housing pipeline in place, the county expects to meet these benchmarks by spring.
"The county has made extraordinary progress and it is the result of our approach to work closely and cooperatively with municipalities, developers and non-profits around common goals," said County Executive Robert P. Astorino. "This will continue to be the county's approach until we have fully met our obligations under the settlement. The numbers tell the story."
All of the 31 eligible communities have sites under review and more that 200 site reviews have taken place. As detailed in the quarterly report to HUD, the county currently has 540 fair and affordable units in the pipeline, or 72 percent of the units required by the settlement. Those units, along with others listed in the report but not yet included in the unit count, are located in 15 municipalities and represent 23 developments that are now in various stages of approval and or construction.
The units are in Ardsley, Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, Hastings, Larchmont, New Castle, North Castle, North Salem, Pelham, Pleasantville, Rye Brook, Rye City, Somers, and Yorktown. The housing pipeline also lists a rental building in Bedford as potentially yielding eligible units
The settlement includes benchmarks for financing and obtaining building permits that must be in place by the end of each year. The county faces severe financial penalties if it fails to meet the benchmarks. To facilitate the development process, the county has established a $2.5 million revolving loan fund to acquire and rehabilitate foreclosures in eligible municipalities and resell them with the affordability requirements in place so they will also count toward this program. The county expects to acquire and rehabilitate an additional 14 units under this program.
Central Intake Attracts Large Numbers
On another positive front, the county said that its "central intake" page on the Homeseekers section of its Web site has been very successful in attracting people to sign up for information about affordable housing opportunities. This site was expanded in late 2011 to include new mapping components. In the first 14 months of operation of this site, it drew 9,033 viewers.
Overall, 1,576 households have signed up for information. Those interested come from 15 states, New York City, other Hudson Valley counties and all over Westchester. Under the settlement, the county is required to market the housing in a way to reach African Americans and Hispanics, among others, not only in Westchester but also in New York City and surrounding counties.
Loss of HUD Funds
On a negative note, the report states that HUD's failure to approve the county's Analysis of Impediments has resulted in the blockage of $7 million in federal funding. HUD has rejected the county's submission five times since the settlement was signed. HUD's actions have led to layoffs in the Planning Department, a reduction in support for non-profit housing agencies that work with the county to develop affordable housing and a loss of community investment in Westchester's poorest communities.
"If not resolved, the loss of HUD funds will restrict the ability of the county to leverage those federal dollars to complete the building obligations set forth in the settlement agreement with the agreed upon $51.6 million," the report concludes. "The county is engaged in the dispute resolution process set forth in the settlement agreement and is optimistic that the matter will be resolved in an appropriate manner."