For years, the big threat from high-density housing activists was that Marin was going to be “the next Westchester.” With a change in administrations, that threat just evaporated.
During the Barack Obama administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development decided to make an example of Westchester, a county that’s often described as New York City’s Marin.
HUD ruled that Westchester’s single-family zoning was an “impediment” to its staff-crafted “affirmatively furthering fair housing” doctrine. Like Marin, Westchester signed a “voluntary” compliance agreement that ultimately allowed federal courts to get involved when HUD decided that the county’s zoning violated that agreement.
Westchester is larger and more diverse than Marin, but many of its communities are likewise zoned for single-family homes owned by primarily white and Asian families. It’s also a reliable blue bastion, at least in national and state politics.
Hillary Clinton is a Westchester resident, in the Ross-like village of Chappaqua.
It’s little surprise that Westchester voters reacted just as one might expect Marinites would if they were targeted by an ideologically driven staff exhibiting a phobia about any neighborhood without high-density, low-income developments.
Voters dumped their Democratic county executive — Westchester’s directly elected county mayor — and replaced him with Rob Astorino, an aggressive moderate Republican. Astorino refused to back down on opposition to HUD’s contention that single-family zoning was inherently racist.
Westchester was continually in HUD crosshairs. The federal agency succeeded in pushing the county to approve more affordable units, even in its most upscale communities. This was the positive side of HUD’s effort and one Marin should emulate without heavy-handed federal intervention.
Westchester ultimately approved 790 affordable units with 100 more coming on-line.
The unresolved issue was whether the HUD-mandated “Analysis of Impediments” finding that Westchester was required to prepare under its settlement agreement would ever be deemed “acceptable.” The county submitted 10 versions and none was OK’d.
All Marin communities have neighborhoods zoned “single-family,” with “second units” usually compatible. Marin also is mandated to prepare regular “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing,” which could someday be used as a cudgel toward eliminating single-family zoning here.
Elections have consequences. Astorino used his clout with new HUD secretary Ben Carson, who has a different take on what’s legally discriminatory. The upshot is that HUD has now, according to the New York Daily News, “accepted a county analysis of how local zoning codes can create barriers to fair-housing choices. The analysis didn’t find any exclusionary zoning in the county.”
Despite its left political leanings, HUD’s capitulation was perceived as long overdue by Westchester residents of all political persuasions. It also means that Marin’s beloved single-family zoning is safe … for now.