Westchester Desegregation Planning Rejected by HUD

Westchester Case

December 22, 2010 – Westchester has failed to comply with yet another of its obligations under the consent decree.

The County was required to develop an “analysis of impediments” to fair housing choice that was acceptable to HUD. That meant it was supposed to identify, analyze, and take the actions necessary to overcome all barriers to fair housing.

The AI, which was patently inadequate, was submitted back in July, 2010, and, within days, ADC had posted an analysis of some of its major deficiencies.

HUD has now found that the AI is indeed “incomplete and unacceptable,” and has rejected the submission.

According to the full text of the letter from HUD to Westchester, HUD has found that the County “failed to set forth specific strategies…to combat exclusionary zoning practices.” These deficiencies included the failure to commit to actions “that will overcome problematic land use approval processes and zoning ordinances, difficulties faced by lower-income and minority residents as they seek to move to higher-income neighborhoods, and local opposition to affordable housing development.”

Westchester, HUD wrote, has not even conducted an analysis or provided a strategy in terms of the location of affordable housing. “To sufficiently address this deficiency in its AI, the County must set forth the strategies it will employ to ensure that as it develops affordable housing, it is reducing patterns of racial and ethnic segregation,” the agency wrote.

HUD reserved special criticism for Westchester’s false statement about its purported lack of authority in respect to municipalities:

Even more fundamentally, the County claims that it is unable to overcome municipal exclusionary zoning laws, stating “Westchester County is extremely limited in the action it can take to solve the [exclusionary zoning] problems.” AI at 131. This statement is inconsistent with both the County’s obligation under the Settlement to take appropriate actions to gain municipal cooperation and the County’s clear acknowledgement of a number of tools already at its disposal to overcome municipal resistance, including providing financial incentives, enforcing the terms and conditions of the Urban County Cooperative Agreements, and initiating legal action if necessary. See Settlement at 2, ¶¶7(i)&(j), 25.

After reviewing the HUD letter, Craig Gurian, ADC’s Executive Director, made the following statement:

As we said back in the summer, Westchester’s AI was nothing more than a recycled version of the arguments and evasions that characterized its unsuccessful defense during Phase I of ADC’s lawsuit. The AI was unacceptable by any standard, and we are pleased that HUD has now rejected it. Significantly, HUD has identified several central deficiencies of the submission (although it failed to mention that Westchester’s obligations are not unit-specific – the County is obliged to have as a goal in all its housing programs the ending of residential segregation).
It is essential, however, that the situation on the ground in Westchester be assessed realistically, resisting any urge to engage in wishful thinking.

HUD says in its letter that the County has “taken some steps” towards developing affordable housing that will “count” towards meeting its obligation.

In fact, the County has made no progress at all in developing housing that either confronts zoning barriers or provides desegregation opportunities within the midst of existing single family or other low-density ultra-white blocks.

Instead of focusing on development that would maximize desegregation opportunities, Westchester has focused on strategies that would minimize structural change. With the assistance of a Monitor that has thus far failed to stand up for the integrity of the consent decree, Westchester has been trying to utilize “less controversial” sites (or, to use the Monitor’s unfortunate phrase, to go for “low hanging fruit”).

What makes a site low hanging fruit?

Being really, really close to railroad tracks, or major highways, or to ground contamination.

Having already been approved for development and so not actually supposed to “count” towards consent decree units.

Being on a block with few or no African-Americans only because the block has no population of any race or ethnicity other than people who live in what the Census Bureau calls “group quarters.”

Taking a proposed age-restricted development (something not permitted for initial consent decree units), redubbing it as open to everyone, but not redesigning the units so that families with children could occupy them.

Here are the bottom lines:

Westchester has already been violating the consent decree in all essential respects for well over a year. These violations go well beyond its AI-related failures.

HUD needs to be going back to Judge Cote now to bring Westchester into compliance. The letter, unfortunately, does not state or suggest that it will be doing so.