WHITE PLAINS, NY (AP / CBSNewYork) - A county executive's veto of an anti-discrimination bill didn't violate a housing settlement with the federal government, a judge has ruled.
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Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said Monday that the ruling vindicates his claim that the government has been "overreaching'' while the county has been fulfilling its promises.
"The federal government does have a limit to its powers,'' Astorino said.
The ruling concerns a 2009 settlement that called on Westchester to create 750 affordable units, mostly in heavily white areas, and to encourage nonwhites to move in. The agreement ended a discrimination lawsuit.
Federal Magistrate Gabriel Gorenstein ruled Friday that Astorino didn't violate the settlement when he vetoed a measure that would have banned discrimination based on an applicant's source of income.
The ruling said that while the settlement requires the county to "promote'' such legislation, it cannot be used to force the county executive to sign such a bill.
Astorino had opposed the settlement as a candidate but inherited it when he took office in 2010. He has pledged to enforce it but has tussled with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and a court-appointed monitor over the seven-year agreement.
He said Monday that the county is ahead of schedule in providing the housing but that HUD is "overreaching'' and "trying to dictate new terms.''
Astorino demanded that HUD release $7 million in housing funds it was withholding.
HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said the department was reviewing the ruling. He wouldn't comment on whether it would appeal or release the funds.
The source-of-income legislation was intended to keep landlords from refusing tenants who used government vouchers for housing funds. Astorino, a Republican, said he vetoed it as "a violation of basic property rights.''
He said his predecessor, Democrat Andrew Spano, had supported the bill, fulfilling the county's obligation to "promote'' it.
Astorino claims the government is trying to add requirements to the settlement, including that half the units have three bedrooms and that the housing be near "above-average schools.''
The magistrate quoted a precedent case as saying, "Courts must abide by the express terms of a consent decree and may not impose supplementary obligations on the parties even to fulfill the purposes of the decree more effectively.''
"A deal is a deal,'' Astorino said.
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