RYE, N.Y. The League of Women Voters presented a policy issues forum on the county's fair and affordable housing settlement agreement on Tuesday night at the Rye Free Reading Room.
The forum panel was made up of James E. Johnson, a monitor for federal housing, Janet Hostetler, of the Department of Housing & Urban Development, and Norma Drummond, of the Westchester County Planning Department. Also in attendance were mayors Dennis Pilla, Doug French, and Joan Feinstein of Port Chester, Rye, and Rye Brook, respectively.
A 2009 settlement agreement determined that the county failed to develop fair and affordable housing within certain municipalities. The main stipulation of the settlement states that the county must provide financing and building permits for 750 affordable housing units in the 31 offending communities by 2017.
Among the issues discussed were the county's marketing efforts for its fair and affordable housing projects. "We need to implement a broad and expansive marketing effort," Johnson said. "The bricks and mortar are essential, but the first step is creating marketing plans that reach the communities that are least likely to apply.
Johnson said his role is to utilize "all powers necessary" to ensure that the county meets the stipulations of the settlement. "This program behooves families who are strivers," Johnson said. "It's about creating a better life for them but also about making a better way for Westchester.
The panel said unintended consequences could arise as a result of the settlement agreement for municipalities like Port Chester, which is not an area mandated to build affordable housing. According to the panel, sections of Rye Brook that fall in the Port Chester school district could be selected as sites for building fair and affordable housing.
Pilla said that since the majority of people applying for affordable housing are families with young children, he fears Port Chester schools are at risk for becoming overwhelmingly overpopulated. This would ultimately cost Port Chester residents more money in taxes, he said.
"In effect, Port Chester is being penalized for not being a violator," Pilla said. Pilla acknowledged that while he is mainly concerned with Port Chester, there are other county municipalities that might suffer a similar fate.
The panel said that although there was rumored tension between the county and Rye and its villages, officials from both sides assured the audience that this was not the case.
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