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Fed monitor, NY county exec at odds over housing

Jim Fitzgerald, Associated Press

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- The leader of a suburban New York county has been misrepresenting efforts to resolve a housing dispute, a federal monitor said Wednesday.

In a letter, court-appointed monitor James Johnson asked Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino to remove from the county website "misleading statements" about Johnson's work.

Astorino immediately refused.

The statements "will not only stay up but I hope and pray that everyone in this county reads them," Astorino said at news conference.

The dispute stems from the 2009 settlement of a housing discrimination lawsuit against Westchester. In the settlement, among other concessions, the county agreed to build 750 affordable units in mostly white areas and market them to non-whites.

In a press release issued Tuesday and posted on the county site, Astorino claimed the monitor had "assigned" thousands of new affordable-housing obligations to the 31 communities affected by the settlement.

Astorino said he also feared the federal government was taking aim at zoning regulations in Westchester.

"There is a complete and utter overreach by Washington into the lives of many Americans," said Astorino, a Republican who is running for re-election this year.

Johnson said he has no authority to raise the number of units required and his letters were for fact-finding only.

There's been continuing tension between the federal government and Astorino, who was not in office when the agreement was signed. He relented on another issue in the settlement only when threatened with contempt of court.

Johnson said he was gathering local information only because Westchester has failed to come up with an acceptable "analysis of impediments" to fair housing.

The analysis is required by the settlement. The county has submitted several analyses, all of which concluded there were no impediments to fair housing in Westchester.

Those analyses have been rejected by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a party to the settlement and is withholding millions of dollars in grant money from Westchester because of the delay.

Johnson said that in the process of gathering information about housing and zoning, he referred to a 2004 study that concluded Westchester would eventually need more than 10,000 new affordable housing units.

The study is not part of the settlement, but it is "relevant to the issues in the analysis of impediments," Johnson said in a phone conference with reporters.

And he said, "separate and apart from the settlement, that need has not gone away."