Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Poverty & Race Research Action Council Urge Westchester to Comply with Court Order and End Housing Discrimina

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 7/11/2014, 2:31 p.m.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), and the Poverty ...
ReNika Moore of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11, 2014– The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), 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. 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.

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 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.

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. Equallytroubling, 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.”