Hillary Clinton’s suburban hometown of Chappaqua, New York has just become ground zero in the Obama administration’s efforts to nullify local control over America’s housing. President Barack Obama’s Justice Department has fired a powerful warning shot at Westchester County, New York, where the administration is conducting a dry run of its new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, reports Stanley Kurtz in the National Review.
Up to now, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has refused to adopt any legislation that will ban discrimination against residents who pay their rent with government vouchers. The Astorino administration has not strategized how to eliminate local zoning laws that make it impossible for some Black and Latino families to find housing in the county.
The media has now reported that the county was notified that it would lose $5.2 million in federal community development grants from 2012 if it didn’t reverse its long-standing contention that local zoning is not an obstacle to diversifying Westchester communities. An analysis of local zoning is a requirement of the settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Astorino’s response was, “the $5.2 million, or any amount of money, wasn’t worth giving up local control over zoning.”
At issue is whether Westchester’s obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing” compels county officials to crush local opposition to a low-income housing development in downtown Chappaqua.
“I would love to live in Chappaqua next to the Clintons or Gov. Cuomo,” Astorino said. “But I don’t have the economic means to do it.”
Further, Astorino said communities should have the right to plan and zone the way they want.
“When people choose to buy a home or to live in a specific place, they go in there because the neighborhood is what a neighborhood is. They zoned for that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily fair that a year later all of a sudden everything comes down and a building goes up next to you.”
The Obama administration is taken a more assertive approach than its predecessors to enforcing the fair housing law, which requires communities receiving federal development money to “affirmatively further” integrated housing.
This is far from being a new chapter, the tale of Westchester replicates the long history of the Fair Housing Act, in which federal officials have repeatedly backed down from strong enforcement when confronted by determined local opposition.
HUD, for example, raised no objections when Westchester proposed counting the Rye apartments — one-bedroom condos originally designed for seniors — as part of its pledge to build 750 units of affordable housing. Under the terms of the settlement, the site should have been rejected because it sits in a heavily black and Latino census tract.
HUD officials said the department’s senior leadership had little appetite for a confrontation over race with the county, which is home to prominent Democrats such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In the decades after the Fair Housing Act was passed, documents show, HUD did not challenge Westchester when local officials certified they were working to undo segregation while not even considering race as a factor in housing policy. It fell to a private civil rights group to question Westchester’s written assertions.
The county settled the case after a judge ruled that its statements to HUD on fair housing amounted to a multi-year fraud, raising the possibility of as much as $150 million in fines.
Astorino campaigned against the deal, ousting the Democrat who signed it. Since then, the county has failed to meet several key provisions. Among them: It has not adopted legislation that bans discrimination against residents who pay their rent with government vouchers. It has not produced a HUD-approved analysis of obstacles to fair housing. It has not drawn up a strategy to eliminate local zoning laws that make it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to find housing. And it has not launched marketing campaigns to promote integration in the county.
Unfortunately, Astorino’s opposition to HUD or supporting a segregated Westchester didn’t stop Rev. Richardson a resident of Scarsdale or many other black pastors in Westchester from supporting him this last election.
According to news reports, Richardson’s reason why he supported Astorino wasn’t social justice or equity in government or even fiscal responsibility. He noted that Astorino had made available $45,000 for Grace Freedom School (Taxpayer money).
The settlement imposed on Westchester several years ago by the Obama administration creates a court-appointed “monitor” who has effectively usurped Westchester County’s right to democratic self-governance. The monitor insists, and Obama’s Department of Justice agrees, that Westchester County officials must not only obtain financing for new low-income housing developments in Chappaqua, but must suppress local opposition to the project, the National Review article goes on to say.
The National Review reported: Justice Department officials have just asked a court to impose massive fines if Westchester officials don’t compel the local town council to approve a low-income housing development in Chappaqua. Westchester officials are to be forced to put a letter endorsing the Chappaqua project on the county’s website, and to publish the same letter in the Sunday edition of the local paper. Westchester County is further instructed to write monthly letters to the town of New Castle inquiring after the status of the Chappaqua project and asking why approvals haven’t been granted. County officials are also to be forced to attend all local public hearings regarding the project. In other words, In order to force federal diktat on Hillary’s hometown, the elected officials of Westchester County are to be turned into puppets of the Obama administration. And if Westchester and New Castle/Chappaqua don’t give in, the massive and ever-increasing fines paid by the county are to be used to build even more low-income housing in the area.
Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Westchester’s Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, rightly says, “The [Department of Justice]’s position seems to be that democracy and due process don’t apply when it comes to Westchester’s housing settlement.” McCormack then adds, “This behavior appears to be a harbinger for what the rest of the nation can expect under HUD’s new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rules.”
With Chappaqua now the epicenter of opposition to the Obama administration’s controversial housing policies, and Obama letting off a few warning shots over Hillary’s house, the question is, how will Hillary respond? Westchester County residents, both those in favor and those oppose to the AFFH will be paying close attention to what Hillary’s thoughts are on this topic as she hopes to succeed Obama and become the 46th President Of The United States.
Does Hillary Clinton favor the low-income housing project under debate in Chappaqua? Does Hillary Clinton see the Obama administration’s orders against the leaders of Westchester County as a legitimate use of federal authority? Does Hillary Clinton support the Obama administration’s new rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing? These are the questions Westchester County needs to be asking.