Bedford formally amended its longtime approach to providing affordable housing Tuesday, adopting rules consistent with federal guidelines imposed on Westchester to settle a discrimination lawsuit.
Among the controversial provisions of the ordinance, unanimously adopted by the Town Board after a public hearing, were an end to local preferences and a requirement to market the housing regionally. Under the new rules, town employees and elderly residents, for example, will no longer routinely have first crack at the affordably priced units and the housing will have to be advertised not only countywide but throughout every borough of New York City.
Both requirements were assailed at the hearing as governmental overreach and an affront to the principle of home rule. “What worries me,” said Katonah architect Martin K. Kravitt, “is having an outside governmental agency, whether county or federal, mandating that the Town of Bedford must market these properties outside the community . . . and pay for the marketing.”
Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts pointed out that both provisions were dictated by the county’s landmark 2009 accord, which settled a federal lawsuit filed by an antidiscrimination group. The agreement gives Westchester seven years to build or acquire at least 750 racially and ethnically diverse housing units in 31 communities, most of them, like Bedford, wealthy and white. The developers, she said, would pay the marketing costs.
Deputy Supervisor Peter Chryssos described Bedford’s new law—blending the town’s decades-old but locally oriented affordable-housing initiatives with the county’s proposed model ordinance—a matter of “making the best of a bad situation.”
“The proverbial horse,” he said, “is out of the proverbial barn.”
Jeffrey Osterman, Bedford planning director, opened the hearing by outlining the new law’s provisions, which require that 10 percent of the units in housing projects of five or more lots be affordably priced. The law defines that as being within the financial reach of a family earning 80 percent of this area's median income, or AMI. He put that figure today at $84,000 for a family of four.
Luke Vander Linden of Bedford Hills saluted town officials for addressing the affordable-housing issue. But, pointing to Bedford’s longtime efforts to promote such housing on its own initiative, he declared, “How absurd it is that we had to do this [new local ordinance].”
Vander Linden, a Republican candidate last year for the Town Board, blamed former County Executive Andrew Spano, a Democrat, and the Democratic-controlled county legislature for embracing the 2009 settlement. “It gives the federal government an opportunity to overreach well beyond the original agreement,” he said.
While Vander Linden called on the board to “fight back” against what he called Washington’s “unwarranted and unprecedented” thrust into local affairs, he stopped short of advocating outright defiance of the accord. Under questioning from Chryssos and Councilman Chris Burdick, one of the two Democrats he challenged last November, Vander Linen acknowledged the need to approve the new law. But he urged a tough stance against any future “ridiculous overreach” by the federal government.
Don Scott, however, speaking next, pressed town officials to delay any action, at least until after a community forum in Town Hall, which is scheduled to take up the affordable-housing issue Feb. 29. “I urge you to hold this public hearing open,” he said. “There is no fire here.”
Referring to unnamed federal officials, he said, “They don’t know the difference between Bedford, Texas, and Bedford, N.Y. And they’re here telling you how you should run your [town] code in Bedford, N.Y.” Scott insisted, “There is time to get it right.”
Coincidentally or not, Bruce Yablon, chairman of the Bedford Democrats, followed Scott, the town’s GOP leader, to the microphone. Neither man referred to his political post in addressing the board, which has a 3-2 Republican majority but which rarely divides along partisan lines.
Yablon said he applauded the board for “getting out in front” on the issue. The parameters under which the town had to draft its new law, Yablon suggested, were established by the county’s three-year-old settlement agreement, which among other things eliminated preferences for town residents. “It is what it is,” he said of the accord.
These preferences have essentially been eliminated anyway, said Tom McGrath, chairman of the town’s 30-year-old housing-development effort. Virtually all affordable housing today relies at least in part on government financial assistance, he noted, and such cash comes only with a no-preferences provision.
Asked by Bedford Hills resident Howland Robinson whether the town had considered an alliance with other communities to fight the housing mandates in court, Roberts said, “Yes, but that’s not why we’re doing this.” The supervisor said, “This is what the settlement requires.”