Opening Acts: June 27, 2018

Westchester Town Settles Fair Housing Lawsuit

AGREEMENT BRINGS TOWN OF BEDFORD’S HOUSING PROGRAM INTO COMPLIANCE WITH FAIR HOUSING LAWS

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced that a settlement has been reached with the Town of Bedford and the Blue Mountain Housing Development Corp. in a federal fair housing lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in July 2017. The lawsuit, filed by the FHJC and Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. (WRO), alleged that the Town used and enforced discriminatory residency and employment preferences in its middle-income affordable housing program. The lawsuit was filed after a joint investigation by the FHJC and WRO uncovered both statistical and testing evidence that these residency and employment preferences advantaged whites while having a disparate impact on African Americans.

While denying any wrongdoing, the defendants agreed to extensive injunctive relief, including but not limited to:

  • Amending the Town Code to 1) repeal and remove the residency and work preferences in its middle-income housing program, 2) revise the definition of “middle-income family,” and 3) add incentives for the creation of middle income housing;
  • Transitioning the administration of the middle-income housing program to the Housing Action Council, an independent nonprofit;
  • Eliminating the use of existing waitlists for middle-income housing;
  • Developing and implementing an affirmative marketing plan for the sale and rental of existing middle-income housing, including the use of a lottery system, and requiring developers of future middle-income housing to develop and implement an affirmative marketing plan as well;
  • Modifying the Blue Mountain Housing Lending Programs to include incentives for developing middle-incoming housing;
  • Making the Bedford Housing Trust Fund available for affordable and middle-income housing developments;
  • Publicizing the revisions to the Town Code and incentives for middle-income development, including to prospective middle-income housing developers, homebuyers and renters, including employees at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility;
  • Retaining WRO to conduct fair housing trainings for members of the Blue Mountain Board, members of the Town Board, Town Supervisor, Director of Planning, Town Clerk, Deputy Town Clerk, all Housing Action Council employees, and any other of the defendants’ officials and agents who are involved in the implementation of the agreement; and
  • Maintaining records of all activities and efforts to comply with this agreement, available for inspection by WRO.

The settlement agreement was so ordered by the Hon. Kenneth M. Karas and includes a total monetary recovery of $165,000.

“This settlement is a step towards dismantling the segregation that still exists in Westchester as a result of exclusionary zoning codes. WRO will continue to work towards the goal of equal opportunity in housing as promised 50 years ago by the federal Fair Housing Act,” stated WRO Deputy Director Marlene Zarfes.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “This agreement was crafted to ensure that all qualified households have equal access to middle-income housing opportunities in the Town of Bedford and to encourage the development of additional affordable and middle-income housing.

The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.

The mission of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster more open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.