A trio of civil rights and fair housing groups have written to Attorney General Eric Holder to ask the Justice Department to take a harder line against Westchester County in enforcing the 2009 fair housing settlement.
A letter from the Enhanced Section 8 Outreach Program in Yonkers, the Equal Justice Society in Oakland, Calif. and Erase Racism in Syosset says the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, has failed to enforce several provisions of the settlement, including requiring the county to sue towns that maintain barriers to housing choice. The county has denied that any town is violating fair housing laws and County Executive Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor, has refused to sue municipalities.
“The U.S. Attorney’s failure to enforce all the provisions of the consent decree is fostering disrespect for the rule of law and makes clear to other jurisdictions that the Government is not prepared to force structural change even where it has the maximum leverage provided by a court order,” the letter says. “It is imperative that the Justice Department alter course and vindicate the integrity of the consent decree.”
The letter comes as the monitor in the case, James Johnson of Debevoise & Plimpton, is preparing a new analysis of local zoning at the request of the Westchester Board of Legislators. The analysis is supposed to determine if any town zoning has the effect of keeping out black and Hispanic residents, even if there is no intentional discrimination. Despite pressure from the federal government, the administration has refused to alter its conclusion that no zoning is exclusionary. As part of the settlement, HUD has the final say on the adequacy of the analysis.
HUD has withheld millions in grants over the zoning analysis and the county is coming up against another deadline at the end of September. The county is fighting the loss of the grants in federal court.
Photo: Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino