WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled on Friday: "There has been no finding, at any point, that Westchester actually engaged in housing discrimination.”
The federal decision came as good news to all of Westchester's municipalities and County Executive Rob Astorino who reacted: “This is a big victory for Westchester County. This vindicates our fight to protect home rule and local zoning."
Friday's ruling stems from county government’s battle to reclaim millions in federal community grant money withheld by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in connection with a 2009 settlement reached by former County Executive Andrew Spano and HUD to build 750 units of affordable housing in 31 primarily white, affluent muicipalities by the end of 2016.
During years of legal appeals, Westchester was expected to have financing in place for 450 units of affordable housing by the end of 2014. A HUD monitor overseeing the settlement agreement said the county fell short of that goal because 28 units in the Chappaqua Station development in New Castle should not be counted. Westchester argued 454 units were funded, including the Chappaqua project. The county says it has met all federal settlement agreement benchmarks for developing the housing and that more than 300 of the units are occupied.
But in July, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office filed this legal motion saying that Westchester County violated the terms of its fair housing settlement and should face new punishment. Possible penalties included contempt of court, monthly fines of $60,000 and putting $1.65 million in escrow until court-ordered sanctions are lifted.
"The issue with HUD and the monitor has never been about race or access to housing,'' Astorino said in a statement on Friday. "There is no place for discrimination in Westchester or any place else. But by the same token, there needs to be checks on the federal government’s ability to use its power and money to reshape our communities.”