By PETER APPLEBOME
WHITE PLAINS — When Westchester County agreed to a far-reaching affordable housing agreement in 2009, federal officials heralded a new era for desegregation in communities around the country.
“This is consistent with the president’s desire to see a fully integrated society,” said Ron Sims, then the deputy secretary with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Until now, we tended to lay dormant. This is historic, because we are going to hold people’s feet to the fire.”
But rather than signaling a transformative moment, the settlement has led to an often rancorous tug of war, complicated by politics and real estate prices in one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, where the residents include notables like Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The result is raising questions about Westchester’s commitment to complying with the agreement and just what a “fully integrated society” might mean, cost and look like in a largely developed suburban county. ...
Westchester is ahead of schedule in building the 750 affordable residences required by the settlement, but there are complaints that rather than representing true economic and racial integration, many of the housing units are far from the heart of affluent white communities. Westchester and HUD remain at a testy impasse over the county’s responsibility to ensure that its towns and villages end exclusionary zoning practices.
After a federal judge ruled that the county had “utterly failed” to meet its obligations, it agreed to the settlement. The deal required the county to spend $51.6 million to build 750 units of affordable housing in 31 overwhelmingly white communities within seven years, and to market those units to nonwhites aggressively. ... The settlement also required the county to “use all available means as appropriate” to promote nondiscriminatory housing, including pushing towns and villages to alter zoning rules that discouraged the construction of apartments. Pound Ridge, for example, covers 23.5 square miles, but no land is zoned for multifamily use.
... The monitor and HUD had argued that Mr. Astorino violated the settlement when he vetoed the bill, which would have prohibited landlords from discriminating against tenants who receive housing subsidies. ...
Craig Gurian, executive director of the group that sued the county, said much of the housing that had been approved or proposed was adjacent to low-income communities in neighboring towns or otherwise isolated from the rest of the wealthier community.
The proposal for Chappaqua, home of the Clintons, calls for what would be the tallest building in the town, dropped into a no-man’s land between railroad tracks, a highway and a bridge. New housing completed in Rye hugs the border of largely minority Port Chester, across two busy highways from the rest of Rye. Forty-six units scheduled for Larchmont sit in a virtually unpopulated block behind a strip mall, squeezed in against railroad tracks and Interstate 95.
I live in Chappaqua, and will take bets that the "tallest building in town" will never get built. First, the NYT article neglects to mention that the railroad tracks run through the center of town. Residents of the proposed building would not be isolated from others in Chappaqua, since people live on both sides of the bridge that runs over the tracks. The building, however, would be a hideous eyesore that would blight what is in reality a small hamlet, not a "town." "Town" is three blocks long and one block wide. To build the proposed development would be like erecting a Levittown in Greenwich Village.
Nor is Chappaqua opposed to racial diversity; on the contrary, this is a town of Democrats, and people welcome diversity. The problem is that the HUD settlement -- and I never thought I'd side with a Republican -- has brought every avaricious developer within 100 miles running into Westchester, shouting "racist" at anyone who opposes his or her aesthetically insensitive, environmentally unsafe, shoddy development plan. The Chappaqua proposal purports to comply with federal and state environmental regulations but, in a letter to our local online newsletter, newcastlenow.org, several local architects and lawyers pointed out numerous ways in which it does not.
The HUD deal is a clumsy way of achieving social equality that has not promoted diversity, but rather left residents helpless in the face of greedy developers. It should be thrown out.
Or better yet, chop a couple of acres off the Clinton's estate in Chappaqua and put either 24 townhouses or an eight-story apartment on that site for affordable housing. With the Secret Service already there, there's even no need to burden Chappaqua with having to fund extra police.
And it's all legal, thanks to the 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London that the government can seize private property when it benefits the public.
A win-win for everyone -- problem solved!