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It was three years ago on a steamy August afternoon when HUD, the Justice Department and Westchester County, New York came together to celebrate a landmark civil rights agreement. At the time, Secretary Donovan said, “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.”
All sides agreed to end legal disputes and turn a new page in a common effort to ensure the County’s housing was fair and open to all families, regardless of their race or ethnicity. The settlement laid out the steps the County needed to take to ensure the end result was a County where housing was open and inclusive. On that day Westchester County pledged to promote legislation prohibiting housing discrimination based on a family’s source of income, whether it’s a paycheck or a public benefit of any sort.
Nassau County (since 2000), New York City (since 2008), New Jersey (since 2002), Vermont (since 1987), and dozens of other cities, counties and states have these laws on the books. Westchester County’s Board of Legislators overwhelmingly approved this legislation yet County Executive Astorino promptly vetoed it.
Now HUD, a court-appointed monitor, fair housing advocates and even a federal judge all agree that you can’t very well ‘promote’ something and veto at the same time.
In addition, Westchester is resisting addressing local zoning ordinances that can choke the development of affordable housing and serve to perpetuate segregation and concentrated poverty. This despite the fact that it’s something the County agreed to tackle by encouraging municipalities to modify their exclusionary zoning practices and, if necessary, to challenge them in court.
And three years ago, Westchester County also agreed to construct at least 750 units of affordable housing. It has made some progress, but this isn’t just about unit numbers. This is a civil rights agreement designed to overcome a pattern of segregation in Westchester County. Just as important is where these housing developments are constructed and whether working families have a fair shot at accessing them.
HUD will remain a willing partner in moving beyond the rhetoric and helping the County accomplish what it agreed to do on that August afternoon three years ago, and after three years, it’s time to follow through on the promise.