Opening Acts Newsletter: February 27, 2012

FHJC and Yorktown Settle Housing Discrimination Case Town Eliminates Residency Preference

On February 27, 2012, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and the Town of Yorktown filed a consent decree in federal court to resolve a fair housing case. The FHJC and Yorktown are seeking federal court approval of the agreement.

The settlement stems from a federal lawsuit filed by the FHJC in December 2010 which alleged that the Town of Yorktown, a predominately white community in northern Westchester County, was discriminating on the basis of race and national origin in the administration of its Section 8 Rental Assistance Program and another affordable housing program. Specifically, the FHJC alleged that the Town applied a system of residency preferences that effectively excluded African Americans and Latinos on the waiting list from receiving Section 8 housing vouchers.

The multi-year agreement obligates the Town of Yorktown to adopt policies to ensure non-discrimination in the future. Under the proposed settlement, the Town of Yorktown has agreed to:

  • Eliminate all residency preferences in Yorktown’s rent assistance and affordable housing programs
  • Reorder the current Section 8 waiting list so that non-resident applicants who currently reside in high
  • poverty neighborhoods receive priority for vouchers as they become available
  • Approve higher rent amounts for non-resident applicants on the current waiting list who wish to move to eligible areas (low-poverty areas) within northern Westchester County 
  • Provide fair housing training to Yorktown’s Section 8 Office and other Town officials with oversight responsibilities for the Town’s housing programs 
  • Adopt a non-discrimination policy and post it in the Town’s Section 8 office and on the Town’s website.
  • Provide Section 8 applicants with an informational flyer (in English and Spanish) on fair housing rights to be designed by the FHJC
  • Provide new voucher holders with a rental search log that will provide information on local, state, and federal fair housing laws and enable tenants to keep track of their housing search
  • Provide non-resident Section 8 applicants with information about Yorktown amenities such as public schools, recreational and medical facilities, employers, public transportation, and utility providers
  • Recruit landlords to participate in the Section 8 program
  • Affirmatively market the Section 8 program to nonresident minority persons in the future when the Town reopens its waiting list

Under the consent decree, the FHJC will receive $165,000 and will be permitted to inspect Town records to monitor compliance for the duration of the agreement. Diane L. Houk, with the law firm of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP who represented the FHJC, stated “Fair housing laws can be potent tools for change, but only if the laws are vigorously enforced. This settlement demonstrates that policies and practices that restrict housing choice or keep people segregated on the basis of race or national origin need not be tolerated.”

Commenting on the settlement, Gene Capello, FHJC Vice President and Westchester County resident said, “This litigation removed a significant barrier to housing choice in northern Westchester County. Now, the settlement will pave the way for non-residents on the waiting list, many of whom are African American and Latino, to use vouchers to locate housing in the Town of Yorktown and other areas throughout Westchester and Putnam Counties.”