Two Westchester legislative committees amended legislation from the 2009 fair housing settlement Monday to increase the size of buildings it would apply to and to clarify what types of disability income would be protected.
The committees voted to send the legislation to the floor at the next meeting of the Board of Legislators May 20, when the board will hold a second public hearing. A vote will likely be taken June 3 and the bill appears to have enough support to pass.
The legislation would make it illegal to discriminate against people seeking to rent or buy a housing unit because they use government income such as Section 8, veterans benefits or Social Security or a private housing grant. An amendment Monday clarified that both public and private disability benefits would be covered under the law.
The committees also changed the size and number of buildings a landlord could own and remain exempt from the law from two buildings with four or fewer units each, with the owner living in one of the buildings, to one building of six or fewer units.
Legislator Jim Maisano, R-New Rochelle, said he was afraid small landlords could be put out of business by the fines in the law and wanted the size of exempt buildings increased.
“That was not something I was fully happy with last time,” said Maisano, who voted for the law in 2010 and said he supports it.
The settlement says the county executive must promote the legislation. A long legal fight clarified that his veto of the legislation in 2010 violated the settlement, which also requires the county to build 750 units of affordable housing in largely-white communities and take other steps to promote non-discriminatory housing. The county and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are still warring over the county’s analysis of zoning in Westchester municipalities and what should be done about exclusionary zoning.
After being threatened with contempt by Justice Department attorneys, County Executive Rob Astorino promised to sign the so-called source-of-income legislation. Reacting to concern from Democratic legislators, Maisano said he would try to get assurances from the administration that the changes wouldn’t cause Astorino to veto the bill.
Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Astorino, said it’s premature to comment before he sees the final legislation but he’s committed to following the court order that required him to reintroduce the legislation, provide information to the board to assist in the analysis of the legislation and to sign it.
In the committee meeting Monday, Legislator David Gelfarb, R-Rye Brook, suggested amending the law so that it would only apply to the disabled, those over 65 and people making more than $15,000 a year but got no support from other members.
“The law already provides for a landlord to turn away an applicant who cannot pay the rent,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining.
The legislators, who met in a joint meeting of the Legislation and Community Services committees, also discussed creating a fine for a first offense of up to $10,000 instead of the current level of up to $50,000. But several legislators felt it should remain at $50,000 because the fines are set for willful, wanton or malicious violations of the law.