Westchester County, NY to build affordable housing for non-whites

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In a settlement, hailed by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a "historic civil rights settlement," the county government for Westchester County, New York has agreed to spend US$51.6 million to build 750 affordable housing units that will primarily be offered to non-white minorities.

Minority distribution in Westchester County per the 2000 United States Census.
Image: Westyschuster.

The settlement is the result of a federal lawsuit filed by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York (ADC) against the county under the False Claims Act, which alleged that the county was negligent in its oversight of federal funds that it received from HUD for community development which stipulated that it "affirmatively further fair housing." The ADC suit which claimed $180 million in damages, also said the county failed to build affordable housing and reduce segregation in some of the more affluent communities.

Prior to the settlement, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Westchester had failed to analyze the effect of race in relation to access to fair housing when it applied for HUD funds.

The county redistributed the federal funds to town and village governments, and the court concluded it did so without ensuring that guidelines were being followed or considering where the affordable housing was being placed.

Westchester County admitted no wrongdoing and says it has "for many years considered the impact of race on affordable housing," according to County Executive Andrew Spano.

Westchester County will also pay $8.4 million as a fine to the federal government and $2.5 million to cover legal expenses of the ADC.

630 of the 750 housing units must be built in communities which are less than 3% black and less than 7% Hispanic. The county will be required to market the homes "aggressively" to minorities, though federal law prevents them from being offered exclusively to certain races.

This is consistent with the president’s desire to see a fully integrated society

—HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims

The case is a landmark for HUD and the way that the Obama administration will use the government agency. "This is about expanding the geography of opportunity for families who may have been limited in their housing choices. The agreement we announce today demonstrates Westchester County's commitment to make sure its neighborhoods are open to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "This agreement signals a new commitment by HUD to ensure that housing opportunities be available to all, and not just to some."

"This is consistent with the president’s desire to see a fully integrated society," said HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims. "Until now, we tended to lay dormant. This is historic, because we are going to hold people’s feet to the fire."

It is not yet decided where the affordable housing will be placed, but Westchester County has a number of towns and hamlets which qualify under the stipulated racial requirements, including Chappaqua, which is noted as the official residence of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.

"Some constituents have had strong reactions, but that's just based on what they read in the papers and what the headlines are," said County Legislator Peter Harckham. "But there are no details yet to get excited about."

"I certainly approve of nondiscriminatory policy for housing," Alan Harrow, a resident of Somers, told The Journal News. "Looking at it from my own point of view, I moved into this very rural area, and if there's suddenly a large housing development and 200 families there, it's probably something I won't really welcome."