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County's Affordable Housing Case, How We Got Here

In this election season, we are sure to hear a lot about Westchester County's affordable housing case and its settlement.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

For years, Westchester County applied for and got federal Community Block Development grants to build affordable housing. A requirement for those grants was that Westchester study the impact of race as an impediment to affordable housing. Westchester clicked the box on the form saying it studied race and took the money from Housing and Urban Development Department.

In 2006, an advocacy group called the Anti-Discrimination Center filed a federal lawsuit saying Westchester lied on its application and, in fact, had never looked at race in light of affordable housing.  Here is the Anti-Discrimination Center's lengthy explainer on the case and its aftermath.

The Anti-Discrimination Center all but won the case. The court ruled that the county had not considered race, but had yet to decide whether the omission was intentional or not, when in 2009, Westchester County reached an agreement with the Justice Department and HUD settling the case. The county Board of Legislators voted on the settlement and approved it by a vote of 12 to 5.

As part of the settlement, Westchester is required to spend almost $52 million, but the agreement prevented the county from having to pay hundreds of millions in potential damages. Under the agreement the county must build a total of 750 units of affordable housing in 31 communities that have been identified as "majority white." The county is required to advertise the housing in communities that are "majority non-white" but there is no requirement about the race of the people who will ultimately live in the housing. The only restriction on those who would own or rent the properties is that they meet affordable housing financial guidelines.

This issue has already come up in the elections for many Westchester County Board of Legislators seats this year, as several candidates have advocated undoing the settlement. 


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