James Johnson, the monitor overseeing the Westchester County fair housing settlement, has proposed an initiative to put together a “toolkit” for designing affordable housing and to fund a team of architects that could help evaluate the design of future developments to ensure they “further the goals of the consent decree.”
Westchester County is required to build 750 units of affordable housing in largely-white communities and take other steps to promote non-discriminatory housing under the 2009 settlement.
The proposal for the Design Initiative grew out of Johnson’s work with WXY Studio, a design firm in New York City, on the proposed Conifer affordable housing development in New Castle, which has been controversial both for its design and its location on a lot boxed in by the Route 120 bridge, the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Metro North Railroad tracks. Other projects that will count toward the county’s 750-unit goal have been criticized for similar reasons.
Johnson said in a letter to County Executive Rob Astorino dated Jan. 30 that he envisions that the initiative will include input from officials, architects, designers, planners, nongovernmental organizations and citizens.
Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett said Friday that county officials find the proposal to be interesting but need to vet it before taking a position. Plunkett said he and the monitor first discussed the initiative in the last two weeks.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development supports the idea and wants to begin setting up a program through its technical assistance program.
“HUD has previously expressed that we share your concern regarding the County’s approach towards site selection and development and believe that the development of an Affordable Housing Design toolkit may be a necessary approach,” HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Johnston wrote to Johnson on Jan. 23.
As of the end of the third quarter of 2012, 87 units were already built and occupied, 272 had financing and 130 had building permits.
Photo: Federal housing monitor James Johnson speaks during a press conference with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino Feb. 16, 2010 in White Plains after they had a meeting regarding the housing implementation plan, which Johnson said needed more work. Also pictured, Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett, far left, and newly appointed Mary Mahon, senior assistant to county executive. ( Tania Savayan / The Journal News )