Judge signs death certificate for housing desegregation consent decree

Westchester Case

August 2, 2021 — At the joint request of the U.S. Attorney (on behalf of HUD) and civil rights defendant Westchester County, federal District Court Judge Denise Cote has terminated the housing desegregation consent decree entered nearly 12 years ago. Commenting on the development, Craig Gurian, ADC’s executive director, said, “Judge Cote has now signed the formal death certificate for what was intended to be a transformative consent decree. The promise of that decree, the outgrowth of landmark litigation, was killed by the very people who were sworn to enforce and oversee it. This was a golden opportunity to begin to make structural change in highly segregated Westchester County, and, despite initial promises to the contrary, there simply wasn’t the political will to hold Westchester to its core obligations. There are many disappointments here, but perhaps the greatest, from a national perspective, is that the Biden Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development has continued the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil perspective of predecessor administrations.”

A recent article in The Daily Beast by ADC’s executive director summarizes the persistent and pervasive failures of enforcement in this case.

As noted in the article:

“The fecklessness of those charged with enforcing the decree always came down to the same thing: demanding full compliance was seen as politically impractical.”

“It took more than Westchester to undermine the promise of the consent decree. Each and all of the institutional players responsible for enforcement or oversight could have changed the trajectory of the decree. If either of the monitors had grappled with the central issues of non-compliance, if HUD had insisted on the U.S. Attorney taking those issues seriously, if the U.S. Attorney on its own had spoken the truth, or if the court had demanded answers, then Westchester’s non-compliance on core issues would have had to be addressed. None broke ranks.”

“And what about HUD? HUD has nationwide responsibility for fair housing enforcement. The current HUD secretary, Marcia Fudge, has said that if jurisdictions who are exclusionary “want to get into a fight about it, we’re ready to fight them about it.” HUD’s posture on Westchester makes these empty words. With that posture, HUD has sent a clear message that, even in the circumstance where a court order increased the power of the federal government to its maximum, it was not prepared to fight resistance to desegregation.

Over the years, ADC made multiple efforts to get the Court to exercise its own interest (it’s “juridical” interest) in seeing that the consent decree was enforced, including the following:

(1) Our 2011 motions to intervene and to compel compliance. The Court denied the motion to intervene and just ignored the issues raised in the motion to compel compliance.

(2) Our 2014 Cheating On Every Level report, which generated a court conference. Judge Cote expressed her continued confidence in the U.S. Attorney and the Monitor, and stated that she saw her role as ruling on specific issues brought to her by the parties or the Monitor (the point, of course, was that neither the U.S. Attorney (on behalf of HUD), nor the Monitor, were bringing to the Court critical issues of non-compliance.

(3) Our May 2016 submissions and the proposed amicus brief of a group of civil rights organizations in support of our submissions. Judge Cote denied all applications, but reserved decision as to whether to accept the expert report of ADC’s demographic expert showing extensive exclusionary zoning. [The Court, in the ensuing five years, never issued a ruling.]

Available below are all of the documents relevant to this last chapter, in reverse chronological order (start on the next page for the Monitor’s report and ADC’s response).

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