Democratic caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL), local elected officials and various community leaders called today for the County’s continuing participation in Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs.
“For nearly forty years, Westchester County municipalities have been able to complete significant capital projects and run beneficial programs thanks to community development block grant funds delivered to us by the federal government,” said BOL Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining). “It’s imperative that the County continues its participation in these block grant programs, to maintain our high standard of living here and to protect our taxpayers, too.”
Joining Legislator Borgia to speak at today’s press conference were two BOL colleagues, Pete Harckham (D-North Salem) and Ben Boykin (D-White Plains), along with NYS Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Village of Ossining Mayor Bill Hanauer, Lindsay Farrell from Open Door Family Medical Center, Karen D’Attore from Interfaith Council for Action and Shawn Cribari from the Ossining Children’s Center.
Presently, BOL members have been working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and federal housing settlement monitor James E. Johnson in order to resolve the impasse between the County and HUD and help save federal grant funds earmarked for various Westchester municipalities—under the condition that the County affirmatively furthers fair and affordable housing. Last year, the County’s incompliance with the housing settlement resulted in Westchester losing its 2011 CDBG funds, the manner in which the federal government returns tax dollars to the local level. The County has since been given notice that the 2012, 2013 and 2014 CDBG funds are in similar jeopardy.
County Executive Rob Astorino has proposed that the County create its own block grant programs by bonding several million dollars a year. The application deadline for the next cycle of CDBG funding is fast approaching, and the Astorino Administration has announced it will not be participating in the application process.
“Staying with the block grant programs as part of the Westchester urban County Consortium just makes more sense,” said Legislator Harckham. “Borrowing for local infrastructure improvements and important programs that we’ve already paid for with our federal tax dollars is spending twice as much as necessary, and, in essence, a double tax.”
Legislator Boykin added: “The County Executive’s proposal to create his own so-called block grants with bonds is perhaps the worst idea from an elected leader I’ve ever encountered. Why should our municipalities, many which are struggling with tight budgets, pass up federal funds for projects that will benefit our residents and business owners?”
Last month, the BOL began to work with HUD and Johnson with a plan to complete the Analysis of Impediments (AI), as outlined in the stipulations of the settlement agreement between the County and HUD. Over the past four-plus years, the Astorino Administration has failed to produce an acceptable AI to HUD, balking at the responsibility to conduct an in-depth review of exclusionary zoning, as it may exist, which has prevented the furthering of fair and affordable housing across Westchester.
“It’s time for Westchester residents and business owners to know this important fact: that working with our federal partners to complete the housing settlement will protect our communities—and create good jobs, too,” said BOL Majority Whip Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon). “It’s time to resolve this conflict and ensure that, both short- and long-term, our seniors, veterans and young professionals can afford to live in Westchester.”
Between 2002 and 2010 Westchester received, on average, over $6 million in annual CDBG funds, benefiting nearly 40,000 people directly. (Source: www.HUD.gov.) Typically, CDBG funds go toward public facilities and improvements, housing rehabilitation, economic development loans, park rehabilitation, infrastructure improvements, neighborhood facilities expansion and rehabilitation, employment training and senior services.
Within the 2012-2014 cycle of CDBG funds, dozens of projects and programs within the 36 towns, villages and cities that comprise the consortium are awaiting their requested grants. Train station stairway repairs, new sidewalks, a dental annex at a neighborhood health center, security cameras at a child care center, flood control improvements, refurbishing of parks and athletic facilities, roof replacements and emergency generators—all stand as part of the CDBG funds now in jeopardy.
“Normally, our municipalities would be applying for future block grants through the County government right now, but the Astorino Administration has sent letters to municipalities stating that Westchester County will no longer be managing the CDBG program,” said Borgia. “However, the CDBG Community Consortium was created through legislative act and can only be dissolved by the Board of Legislators. I’m confident that we can work together with our communities and the Administration to save this critical funding for the benefit of Westchester.”
“The tough economic times that Westchester’s municipalities and not-for profits have faced over the last year have been softened some by Federal block grant dollars that pay for projects and programs that may have otherwise unaffordable to local taxpayers,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), chair of the BOL Infrastructure Committee. “Renouncing the block grant process in favor of borrowing that will be saddled upon taxpayers in the future is bad public policy, plain and simple.”
Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the BOL Community Services Committee, said: “The far-reaching effects of block grant dollars from federal program help strengthen our communities and pull us together to face the challenges ahead. They are contingent on the County’s responsibilities to move forward with affordable housing, which is both good governance and smart planning for the future. Abandoning the block grants will end up hurting all of Westchester, not just the communities where the funds are targeted.”