County North of NYC to Market Housing to Nonwhites

Jim Fitzgerald, AP, August 10, 2009

The suburban county just north of New York City agreed Monday to create hundreds of affordable homes in heavily white communities and encourage nonwhites to move in.

The agreement, reached with the help of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, settles a $180 million lawsuit brought by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York against Westchester County.

Both sides said the agreement, which was being filed in federal court, could have far-reaching national consequences.

“The settlement will have a major impact on the way federal housing and community development funds are used throughout the country,” the center said.

Susan Tolchin, Westchester’s deputy county executive, said, “HUD’s new focus is to make suburbia inclusive and diverse and this is going to be what they want all communities that take funds to do.”

Westchester admitted no wrongdoing. County Executive Andrew Spano said the county had “for many years considered the impact of race on affordable housing.”

But the lawsuit said Westchester failed to build affordable housing and reduce segregation in some of the county’s more affluent communities.

A federal judge ruled in February that Westchester failed to analyze, as required, how race could affect access to fair housing when it sought federal housing and development funds. The county said Monday that was a technicality, but the ruling apparently spurred the settlement.

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Westchester said it will build or acquire 750 apartments or houses in its suburban towns and villages in the next seven years. Of that number, 630 are to be built in neighborhoods that are less than 3 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic.

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Whites cannot be excluded from buying the homes, but the agreement calls for Westchester to market them throughout the county and in nearby areas with large nonwhite populations, Tolchin said.

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The agreement also calls for Westchester to pay the federal government $21.6 million, which the government will then return to the county to help pay for the housing. An additional $10.9 million will be paid to the anti-discrimination center, its lawyers and the government.

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Westchester County entered into a landmark desegregation agreement on Monday that would compel it to create hundreds of houses and apartments for moderate-income people in overwhelmingly white communities and aggressively market them to nonwhites in Westchester and New York City.

The agreement, if ratified by the county’s Board of Legislators, would settle a lawsuit filed by an antidiscrimination group and could become a template for increased scrutiny of local governments’ housing policies by the Obama administration.

“This is consistent with the president’s desire to see a fully integrated society,” said Ron Sims, the deputy secretary of housing and urban development, which helped broker the settlement along with the Justice Department. “Until now, we tended to lay dormant. This is historic, because we are going to hold people’s feet to the fire.”

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