Speaking at an affordable housing symposium at Pace University, John Trasvina (standing behind for County Executive Andy Spano in a 2009 photo), assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the federal government and communities that accept monies must do a better job ensuring that fair and affordable housing is a reality.
Westchester is part of the “national vision” that is about promoting opportunity and equity, he said.
The landmark settlement, which was brokered in 2009 between Westchester and the federal government, is among the first of its kind and is said to be a model with implications for other communities throughout the United States.
“Westchester is a wake-up call, certainly a wake up call to those in the federal government to do a better job,” Trasvina said during his opening remarks. “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.”
About 200 people attended the symposium, including 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.
The settlement stipulates that the county leverage $51.6 million to build 750 affordable units over 7 years in the county’s 31 wealthier, white communities.
Astorino has accused HUD of crossing a line in enforcement and today 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,” he said. “The county, I am proud to say, is a year ahead of schedule.”
During his roughly 28 minute 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 can not be written in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Trasvina cited Marin County, just north of San Francisco, as undergoing a similar process as Westchester, and said the government is “actively investigating” roughly 20 communities throughout the country.
“The new (HUD) rules will be before you in 2012,” he said. “We are committed to getting this done.”
During an afternoon session, John Nolon, a lawyer and professor at Pace Law School, 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.”