Symposium on fair and affordable housing at Pace Law School gains media attention

On Friday, Pace Law School hosted a symposium on fair and affordable housing in the Lower Hudson Valley, which drew around 200 attendees and the attention of several news outlets.

The Journal News’ coverage of the symposium began with a comment from keynote speaker John Trasvina, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that the housing settlement with Westchester County should serve as a “wake-up call” for the rest of the nation.

“Westchester is a wake-up call, certainly a wake-up call to those in the federal government to do a better job,” Trasvina said. “We are here because Westchester is important to the lives and futures of all the people here and it’s important to the people of the nation.”

The symposium was attended by housing professionals, attorneys, advocates and those involved with the settlement, notably the federal monitor James E. Johnson, members of County Executive Rob Astorino’s administration and the Board of Legislators.

According to the Journal News article, Astorino has accused HUD of crossing a line in enforcement and Friday reiterated that Westchester was ahead of schedule: 206 units have been approved by the court-appointed monitor and sites have been identified in all eligible areas.”As county executive, it is my obligation to comply with the agreement and we have done so,” Astorino said. “The county, I am proud to say, is a year ahead of schedule.”

Yet, during his speech, Trasvina cited specific ongoing problems with the local pact and of “missed opportunities,” a reference to a site in Rye that borders Port Chester. But he also spoke of cooperation. “The solutions cannot be written in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

The article also quoted Pace Law School Prof. John Nolon, a land use law expert. During the afternoon session of Friday’s symposium, Nolon spoke of the challenges — such as high costs of land, infrastructure, labor and local opposition — and said it will require patience.”This is a brand new responsibility that this administration is enforcing,” Nolon said. “This is the right place for a national experiment.”

The Daily White Plains, a new online newspaper, also covered the event, focusing on a dispute between parties over the settlement’s $51.6 million cap. According to the article:

Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett launched into his take on the settlement by explaining his and Republican County Executive Robert Astorino’s take on how Adolfo Carrión, the New York and New Jersey regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other federal agents were expanding the original terms of the August, 2009 agreement.

“Carrión has said publicly that it is just a down payment on the amount of money that needs to be spent on financing these 750 units,” Plunkett said of the $51.6 million. “It’s disturbing because all of us as taxpayers and people who have to pay for this settlement are not going to know what that number really is.”

Plunkett said the county executive’s staff felt it was not subject to a settlement stipulation requiring the administration to promote legislation “currently” before lawmakers that banned discrimination against tenants based on where their income comes from because that bill was presented, but not passed, by legislators in 2009.

Legislator Judith Myers (D- Larchmont) read aloud a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, which she said capped Westchester’s spending on building the required 750 units of affordable housing in 31 predominately white communities at $51.6 million.

James Johnson, the court-appointed monitor, claimed he has final authority on the matter and will limit Westchester’s financing of the plan to $51.6 million unless the county fails to meet deadlines. If that is the case, he has the option of fining Westchester $30,000 a day.

The White Plains Examiner was also there. Read the story here.

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