Lawsuit Alleges County in New York Not Fair in Housing
Feature Story by Tyler Lewis - 2/1/2007
Westchester County failed to comply with requirements to further fair housing, according to a complaint from a New York fair housing advocacy organization.
The suit, brought by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. on January 9, under the False Claims Act, alleges that the county failed to ensure that affordable housing was built to help integrate the municipalities that make up the Westchester Urban County Consortium.
“Segregation is alive and well in Westchester County, even though its elected officials promised to use federal housing funds to dismantle racial barriers,” said Michael Allen, an attorney with Relman and Associates, PLLC, a fair housing law firm that is lead counsel in the case.
Allen said that Westchester was required to take affirmative steps to eliminate discrimination. “Far from ‘affirmatively furthering fair housing,’ the county has permitted segregated living patterns to be perpetuated,” said Allen.
Forty percent of the Consortium communities have populations that are 1 percent or less Black. More than two-thirds have populations that are 3 percent or less Black.
The suit alleges that the county received more than $45 million in federal funds yet falsely certified that it was complying with funding requirements of the Fair Housing Act to affirmatively ensure fair housing.
In addition, the federal mandate requires that Westchester analyze barriers to fair housing, but according to the Center, the county did not. The Center maintains that Westchester had a “hands-off” policy with respect to all planning efforts of municipalities yet never withheld funds from them for failing to take steps to ensure fair housing.
“The 20th century problem was government officials who harbored racial animus; the 21st century problem is County officials of good will who are nevertheless unwilling to take the simple -- but politically difficult -- steps necessary to change the racially segregated status quo and comply with their federal obligations,” said Craig Gurian, executive director of the Anti-Discrimination Center.
Westchester County told The Journal News on January 9 that the lawsuit was “infuriating.” "The county recognizes that there is strength in being encouraging and working with municipalities to achieve goals, rather than being punishing to municipalities," said Norma Drummond, deputy commissioner of the Westchester Department of Planning.
The False Claims Act prohibits fraudulent billing to the government, which includes falsely certifying that a contract fulfils certain guidelines.