LDF, along with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), strongly urge Westchester County to comply with a consent decree in which the county agreed to take specific actions to eradicate housing discrimination and expand equal housing opportunity within its boundaries.
Despite the promise of this decree to become a roadmap for Westchester to create more open, vibrant communities, the county continues to fall far short of compliance with many of the court order’s key requirements nearly five years later.
By letter of June 30, 2014, the Lawyers’ Committee, LDF and PRRAC expressed their grave concern about Westchester’s noncompliance to court-appointed monitor, James E. Johnson, who was tasked with enforcing the consent decree as part of a landmark 2009 decision in which the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in United States ex rel. Anti-Discrimination Center of New York v. Westchester County that Westchester County, as a recipient of federal housing funds, must end residential racial segregation and take proactive steps to create more racially inclusive communities as the Fair Housing Act required it to do.
“The Federal Government has an obligation under the Fair Housing Act to end residential segregation, expand housing choices, and ensure the doors to Westchester County are open to all. It’s shameful that Westchester County and County Executive Astorino are hindering this,” said ReNika Moore, Director of LDF’s Economic Justice Group.
The three civil rights organizations additionally provided the monitor with recommendations concerning his efforts to bring the county into compliance with its settlement obligation to properly analyze how local zoning practices deny equal housing opportunities and to identify remedies and to resolve a standoff between the county and HUD by conducting his own analysis of exclusionary zoning within the County.
In April 2014, the Anti-Discrimination Center released an in-depth report entitled “Cheating on Every Level” documenting this non-compliance. Then, on June 26, 2014, the monitor issued a biennial report that similarly describes how the county has openly defied the decree and frustrated the fair housing goals of the consent decree.
Most troubling is that despite acknowledging housing discrimination in the County in a 2011 press release, County Executive Rob Astorino has since maintained, implausibly, that there is no exclusionary zoning in Westchester and has chastised HUD for engaging in so-called “social engineering” designed to take “control of our local communities,” based solely on HUD’s efforts to ensure that the county complete an adequate zoning analysis as required in the consent decree.
Equally troubling, Astorino continues to interfere with the monitor’s efforts to bring the county into compliance. He previously vetoed legislation banning housing discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income-legislation that was required by the consent decree-and has vowed to veto any legislation aimed at resolving the zoning analysis impasse with HUD.
Moreover, he has discouraged local jurisdictions from cooperating with the monitor’s requests for information, in further defiance of the county’s obligations to find and eliminate fair housing barriers. These actions serve to incite local resistance and hinder community support for increased housing opportunities.
According to Joe Rich, Co-Director of the Fair Housing and Community Development project at the Lawyers’ Committee, there are still “substantial and pervasive barriers to fair housing choice throughout Westchester County, in contravention of its duty under the consent decree to use all available means to achieve integration and eradicate segregation within its boundaries.”
PRRAC executive director Phil Tegeler urged that “the County needs to come to terms with a long history of exclusionary zoning, which has helped to create patterns of racial and economic segregation, and which continues to the present day.”
The Lawyers’ Committee, LDF, and PRRAC support the monitor’s proactive efforts to bring the county into compliance. But given the county’s continued defiance five years after entry of the consent decree, the three organizations call on the Department of Justice and HUD to take more forceful action, including seeking court intervention to compel the county’s full and immediate compliance with the consent decree.