Westchester mired in HUD dispute, over discrimination suit settlement

July 23, 2012 01:30PM

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development is accusing Westchester County of violating a settlement connected to a 2009 discrimination suit, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The settlement stipulated that Westchester needed to provide more affordable housing, which it has done, but also that it should analyze the ways in which zoning in the county potentially encouraged racial discrimination — something Westchester has thus far failed to do. But perhaps more importantly, the case has ignited a debate about the role of the federal government in local housing issues.

HUD is withholding more than $12 million in funds for local projects until Westchester complies, and is threatening to fine the county for being in contempt. Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed a motion asking a federal judge to compel the county to “cooperate more fully.”

The federal government alleges in the motion that Westchester County has resisted its requests for information, and that this was “preventing the parties from reaching the ultimate goal of the settlement — the development of fair and affordable housing,” the Journal reported.

County Executive Rob Astorino has rebuffed the government’s requests on ideological grounds. “If a federal department… can dictate to local officials what they will and won’t do, we’re careening toward a different country,” he told the Journal. He said changing zoning will affect residents’ property values.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits race and other characteristics from being used as a basis to deny people housing,” HUD Assistant Secretary John Trasvina told the Journal. “What prompted the litigation in the first place, and what the county continues to fail to do, is to address the impact of race on housing choice.” [WSJ] — Guelda Voien