There’s a orchestrated media campaign brewing in Westchester County, New York that seeks to cast HUD as an over-reaching government agency attempting to impose a federal fair housing mandate on local communities. The Wall Street Journal even went so far as to describe HUD’s effort as “social engineering.”
This campaign is not helping to reach an ultimate solution. While we do not intend to litigate this matter on blogs or in the press, WSJ readers are entitled to know the whole story. So, here are the facts:
Fact: A local group, not the federal government, first challenged Westchester County’s certifications to the federal government that it was affirmatively furthering fair housing. Under federal law, advancing fair housing requires an understanding and recognition of how, among other things, race and national origin affect housing-related decision making, including siting of affordable housing and the existence of segregated communities.
Fact: After a federal judge found against the County, the Obama Administration stepped in to see if a settlement was possible. If the County had lost in court, millions of dollars would have had to be returned to the U.S. Treasury. Through active negotiation, the parties reached a settlement that kept Westchester from losing potentially $150 million and brought about the reinvestment of $51 million back into the County to build 750 units of affordable housing in places that would advance fair housing.
Fact: Westchester County freely negotiated what everyone described as a “landmark” civil rights agreement, requiring local officials to build 750 units of affordable housing in neighborhoods with low minority representation. Again, this was something the County agreed to and was not mandated. While there has been a change in Administrations in Westchester County, its agreement to settle the lawsuit has not changed one bit.
Fact: Westchester County is proud of its overall diversity, but this does not equate with a strong record on integrated, diverse communities. The most recent census data confirm long-standing patterns of racially identifiable communities in the County. Westchester County has work to do to end segregation within the County.
Fact: Westchester County agreed two years ago in the settlement agreement that it could and would take legal actions to compel compliance if municipalities hinder or impede the County’s efforts to carry out the settlement. Yet the County today argues that it is powerless to combat zoning decisions made by cities within the County.
We hope that Westchester County is committed to expanding fair housing choice within its borders. This current impasse over how to implement the County’s end of the bargain is now under review by a federal monitor charged with tracking the progress of our settlement agreement. This is the appropriate venue to resolve our differences.
The Westchester Journal News sees the County’s media campaign for what it is, a distraction and not at all useful if we’re to have a meaningful dialogue about expanding fair housing choice in Westchester County. Let’s stop this war of words. It’s not helping.