Preferences in Westchester Town’s Zoning Code Discriminate Against African Americans
Lawsuit Alleges Town of Bedford Favors Whites in its Middle-Income Affordable Housing Program
Today, two fair housing organizations, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO) filed a lawsuit in federal court (SDNY) alleging that a predominantly white town in Westchester County maintains and enforces a system of preferences that discriminates against African Americans in the provision of middle-income affordable housing. The lawsuit names the Town of Bedford and the Blue Mountain Housing Development Corp., a non-profit corporation created by the Town of Bedford, as defendants. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the Town’s zoning code contains a system of residency and employment preferences that advantages whites and has a disparate impact on African American participation.
A joint investigation by the FHJC and WRO uncovered evidence that the Town of Bedford, which is 86% white, maintained and enforced a system of discriminatory residency and employment preferences for affordable middle-income housing which unfairly advantages whites. The categories of eligible applicants receiving the highest preference for housing include Town employees and residents, most of whom are white. For instance, while 76-78% of Town households who are income eligible for the middle-income housing are white, only 2-3% of Town households who are income eligible for such housing are African American. This compares to Westchester County where 18% of county households who are income eligible are African American. Based on available data, most town employees who would receive priority for the housing are also white.
An undercover testing investigation also confirmed that when non-resident applicants (testers) inquired about the affordable housing opportunities, they were discouraged from applying and were told it would be “several years” or, in another case, a “two to ten year” wait and that there was a preference given to Town employees and residents.
Over the past decade, investigations by the FHJC and WRO have led to legal challenges against several suburban communities for discrimination in land-use, zoning, and affordable housing programs including the Town of Smithtown (Suffolk County), the Villages of Garden City and Great Neck Plaza (Nassau County), and the Towns of Yorktown, Eastchester, and Bronxville (Westchester County).
FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “Under the federal Fair Housing Act, communities have a legal duty to affirmatively further fair housing by eliminating barriers to housing choice and reducing residential segregation. But this case provides yet another example of a suburban community that chose to utilize its zoning powers to provide affordable housing in a manner that disproportionately advantages whites and suppresses participation by African Americans.”
WRO Executive Director Geoffrey Anderson said, “Bedford is one of a number of communities in Westchester in which residency preferences continue to illegally preserve segregation. This case should act as a reminder that truly fair housing will not exist in Westchester so long as exclusionary zoning is tolerated.
The lawsuit seeks to stop the Town from using or enforcing the discriminatory live or work preferences and seeks damages and other injunctive relief to bring the Town into compliance with fair housing laws. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.
WRO is a fair housing organization and HUD-approved housing counseling agency based in Westchester County and serving the lower Hudson Valley. WRO’s mission is to promote equal, affordable, and accessible housing opportunities for all residents of the region.
The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen fair housing enforcement in the New York City region.