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Westchester County Exec Accuses Feds Of ‘Extortion’ Over Fair Housing Dispute

Westchester County Exective Rob Astorino - File / Photo: Westchester County

Westchester County Exective Rob Astorino – File / Photo: Westchester County

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – A suburban official and the federal government are in a war of words.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino accused a federal agency of extortion on Wednesday for withholding millions of dollars in grant money in the fair housing dispute.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development warned the county last month that it would lose $7.4 million on April 25 unless it complies with a demand stemming from the 2009 settlement of a desegregation lawsuit against the county.

“What HUD is doing is extortion based on nothing more than its unsupported opinions,” Astorino said in a press release.

He announced that he has asked HUD for a hearing on the issue and that he is asking the county Legislature to authorize a lawsuit seeking an injunction against HUD.

Astorino contends that the county has complied with the settlement. But HUD, the federal courts and a monitor have said Westchester has yet to provide a satisfactory analysis of exclusionary zoning in the county. They have rejected Westchester’s finding that there are no exclusionary laws.

“HUD refuses to accept the conclusion of our objective and thorough analysis,” said Astorino, a Republican. “To force the county to change its conclusions, it is holding hostage money that’s been promised to our communities.”

The federal government also is contending that Astorino has failed to promote legislation that would prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants who want to use government subsidies to pay their rent. He vetoed such a bill in 2010.

Astorino lost an appeal on that issue last month and has asked the Legislature to re-introduce the bill.

HUD also has refused to give storm relief aid directly to Westchester, although it is allowing New York state to distribute federal funds in the county.

A HUD spokesman said the department has worked diligently with the county to help it fulfill its fair-housing commitments.

“If the county chooses not to live up to these obligations, it effectively chooses to forfeit its federal assistance and HUD will reallocate these resources to where they can be used,” spokesman Brian Sullivan said.

Last year, a federal judge sided with Astorino on the issue.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)