It’s been years since The US government started its battle Westchester County, NY over a Fair Housing lawsuit. After being sued in a housing segregation lawsuit in 2009, Westchester County was mandated to construct 750 units of affordable housing to desegregate the suburban communities, economically and racially. Westchester is known for its stereotypical White and wealthy suburbs, and this lawsuit is an attempt by national government to implement more inclusive housing policies throughout the country.
While Westchester has been on schedule in terms of constructing new units of affordable housing, HUD is asking officials to comply “more fully.” According to an article published this week in the Wall Street Journal, HUD is asking Westchester to promote a bill which would prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants with Section 8, as well as analyze potentially racially discriminatory zoning laws.
In defense, Westchester officials are claiming that their zoning policies reflect the desires of their constituents. County Executive Rob Astorino told reporters:
“The last thing we want,” he added, “is five years from now, for people to say, ‘What happened? Why is this neighborhood completely inside-out now? Why do I have a six-story government housing project or building or townhomes in my neighborhood when it wasn’t zoned for that when I moved in here?
NIMBY anyone? We think that HUD Assistant Secretary John Trasvina says it clearly (in the same article):
“The source of income of an individual is often used to deny them housing,” Trasvina said. “Quite frankly, it’s often used as a proxy for race or national origin.”
When racial and economic injustices are so intertwined, it is almost impossible to separate one from the other when thinking about national policies and implications on communities. As we discussed in our previous blog post about the connection between urban zoning, affordable housing, and access to quality schools, when people are zoned into separate sections of a city based on income levels, access to basic services and even basic rights (including quality education) is unequal. When you bring race into the equation, it’s despicable.
If ethics or law won’t change Westchester’s behavior, perhaps money will. HUD is holding $12 million for local projects until the county complies, and is even threatening to fine the county for acting in contempt. It’s serious.
In light of our country’s awful history with racist zoning policies, HUD’s strong stance that Westchester needs to take the lawsuit seriously and change its discriminatory ways is pretty hopeful. Could it be a sign that national policies are shifting to create a more just housing system? We’ll believe it when we see it.