“Landmark” Bill Slightly Modified from Version Submitted by County Executive Astorino
White Plains, NY – The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) approved tonight legislation banning discrimination against potential renters and home buyers based on their source income. The legislation, which has long been sought by advocates for fair and affordable housing, was a slightly modified version of the Source of Income legislation submitted by County Executive Rob Astorino to the BOL in April, and which he’d previously vetoed in 2010.
The vote for approval of the legislation was 15-2, with legislators David Gelfarb (R-Rye Brook) and Michael Smith (R-White Plains) voting against it.
The one modification for the bill was to change a single exemption. Previously, a landlord living in and owning a rental property with four or less units and maintaining ownership or part ownership in another property of four or less units would be exempted from the law. The modified Source of Income legislation now simply exempts landlords and owners of one property of six or less units.
“This legislation will protect seniors, veterans and low-income working families struggling to find an affordable place to live and who depend on government assistance to get by,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “No form of discrimination is acceptable in Westchester. Our communities will be stronger because of this legislation, which my colleagues on the Board of Legislators should rightfully be proud of.”
The Source of Income legislation, which was passed by the BOL in June 2010 but vetoed by County Executive Astorino, received more scrutiny by the County Board than any other local law in recent years, noted Jenkins. In addition to numerous committee meetings, there were several public hearings, with a variety of stakeholders providing comment, including landlords, tenants, realtors, tenant advocacy groups and business groups. During a process of “extensive discussion and comment,” the legislation was re-drafted several times, ultimately resulting in the June 2010 legislation.
Westchester County was notified by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that it would risk having $7.4 million in 2011 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds reallocated if Astorino failed to take steps toward promoting Source of Income legislation, as stipulated in the fair and affordable housing settlement between the County and the HUD. Moreover, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara demanded that the County Executive resubmit to the BOL the Source of Income legislation and provide written assurance he would sign the legislation, if passed by the BOL, or risk contempt of court charges and crippling fines against the County.
HUD has since declared that the County’s 2012 and 2013 CDBG funds, now totaling $17 million, are also at risk.
Although the legislation bans source of income discrimination, it allows landlords to use reasonable business judgment and level of income in evaluating potential tenants. The legislation, which does not apply to cooperative apartments and condominiums, will sunset in five (5) years unless re-enacted, and it includes a 180-day phase-in period. Also, the County will conduct public education and outreach to inform the public about the new legislation once it is signed into law.
“The Board of Legislators has done everything possible to help County Executive Astorino promote Source of Income protections for county residents and move Westchester closer to full compliance with the housing settlement,” said Legislator Bill Ryan (D-White Plains), chair of the BOL Legislation Committee. “Now, it’s up to him to show the federal authorities that he’s serious about moving forward with the settlement and protecting our CDBG funds.”