CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- "On this one, I think the federal government is wrong,'' County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz said, in reaction to Thursday's news that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office recommends monthly fines and other court action against Westchester County for failing to meet a 2014 benchmark for financing new affordable housing.
Kaplowitz, a Democrat from Somers, is chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. When it comes to the county's 2009 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Kaplowitz has often disagreed with County Executive Rob Astorino about the Republican's legal appeals, refusal to file an updated "Analysis of Impediments" and other decisions that defied HUD.
Kaplowitz, whose legislative district includes New Castle and the proposed Chappaqua Station housing project that is central to Tuesday's court filing , told Daily Voice he completely agrees with Astorino that "this is an overreach on HUD's part. They are making a mistake on this one. . . . It's a very weak case that they're making."
A May report from federal monitor James Johnson said Westchester fell short of financing 450 new units of affordable housing by the end of last year because 28 units at Chappaqua Station could not be included in the count.
Westchester County government disagrees, according to Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack, who said the county approved funding for 454 new affordable housing units, including Chappaqua Station, before the 2014 settlement deadline.
Kaplowitz agreed with McCormack's assessment, adding, "These units are going to get built."
Kaplowitz went on to say that the U.S. Attorney's court action "starts undermining the whole case. ... This is an overreach. This is not right."
In Tuesday's memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Kennedy recommended Westchester be ordered to put $1.65 million into an escrow account -- $68,800 for each of the 24 total affordable housing units short of the 2014 benchmark. The money would be returned if the county meets its 2015 benchmark of having financing in place for 600 new housing units. If it doesn’t, the county would forfeit $68,800 for each unit it is short, Kennedy proposed..(A total of 750 new units must be financed by the end of 2016 under the county's settlement agreement with HUD.)
Chappaqua Station developer Conifer filed for building permits on July 1, McCormack said, and Westchester is working closely with New Castle officials.
"We did have the financing in place,'' McCormack said. "For the Department of Justice, democracy and due process don't apply when it comes to Westchester's housing settlement. It makes no sense."
Through a spokesman, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on Thursday's remarks by Kaplowitz and McCormack.