National civil rights groups speak out on Westchester

Westchester Case

July 9, 2014 — The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council have recently sent a letter to Jim Johnson, the Monitor in the Westchester case, challenging both the rosy view of enforcement efforts peddled to the Court by the U.S. Attorney and the Monitor’s intended method to assess the disparate impact caused by restrictive zoning in Westchester’s towns and villages.

The full text of the letter is available here.

In the letter, the groups:

            (a) point out that the County “still has failed to comply with many key requirements of the Consent Decree, as documented in the recent report submitted to the Court and parties by the Anti-Discrimination Center, ‘Cheating on Every Level’”; 

            (b) note in particular that “there remain substantial and pervasive barriers to fair housing choice throughout Westchester, in contravention of the mandate in Paragraph 7(j) of the Consent Decree that the County ‘use all available means’ to promote the fair housing objectives of the settlement and to counteract municipal actions that hinder those objectives”;

            (c) conclude by saying that: 

While any jurisdiction in the country risks losing federal funding if it fails to meet the obligations imposed by HUD, the Fair Housing Act, and other federal laws and regulations, Westchester has additional obligations imposed by the Consent Decree, and these obligations must be specifically enforced. It is incumbent on you to recommend that the Department of Justice and Court take appropriate action to compel the County’s full and immediate compliance with the Consent Decree (emphasis added).


Disparate impact

The main focus of the letter is a critique of Jim Johnson’s proposed method for assessing disparate impact. The groups:

            (a) state their agreement with ADC’s June 5th letter to the Mr. Johnson, on disparate impact and perpetuation of segregation;

            (b) explain that they are “particularly concerned that the Proposed Methodology does not appear to correct several problematic aspects of the legal analysis that you previously used in your September Report which were inconsistent with established fair housing law” (emphasis added);

            (c) elaborate on key points that Mr. Johnson ignored;

            (d) indicate their disappointment with HUD’s “uncritical concurrence” with Mr. Johnson’s proposed methodology; 

            (e) note that perpetuation-of-segregation analysis requires a regional approach and that, in this case, it is essential that New York City data be included in the analysis  because New York City and Westchester County are in the same housing market (Mr. Johnson wants to leave out New York City); and

            (f) state that, “Consideration of the demographics of the County and the relevant metropolitan statistical area should lead to the clear conclusion that restrictive zoning policies which restrict the availability of multifamily and affordable housing disproportionately limit housing opportunities for African Americans and Latinos.”