Frustrated with the county’s responses to his requests for analysis and information, the monitor overseeing the fair housing settlement between Westchester County and the federal government has turned back to the court in an attempt to force the county to comply.
The monitor, James Johnson of Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City, filed a request Friday with the U.S. District Court asking for an order compelling the county to comply with his information requests and implementing a procedure to speed up compliance with future requests.
Johnson said the county has routinely delayed delivering requested documents and setting up meetings as provided for in the 2009 settlement and the delays are jeopardizing his ability to ensure compliance with the settlement. The county agreed under former Democratic County Executive Andrew Spano to build 750 units of affordable housing in mostly white communities and take other steps to ensure opportunities for minorities and low income families to move into communities around Westchester.
Johnson asked the court to set an Aug. 9 deadline for a list of outstanding requests.
“The Court should exercise its authority here because the County’s consistent refusal to respond to the Monitor’s requests in a timely and complete manner frustrates the purpose of the Settlement — to affirmatively further fair housing including eliminating impediments to integration, engaging in substantial public education efforts, and developing at lest 750 affordable housing units,” the government argued in its request.
The monitor and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have repeatedly clashed with the current county executive, Rob Astorino, a Republican, over his administration’s resistance to implementing parts of the settlement and his accusations that the federal government is overreaching.
Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Astorino, told the Associated Press that the motion was “another example of HUD trying to bully the county.”
The dispute that led to the request for the court order is over an analysis of zoning in the county that might have the effect of excluding black and Hispanic residents. The settlement requires the county to analyze impediments to fair housing, including those based on race or municipal resistance to the development of affordable housing. As part of that, the county has to analyze whether local zoning excludes certain residents and develop a plan for changing the zoning. The county submitted its first draft of the zoning analysis in February, finding no exclusionary zoning in any town. Both Johnson and HUD wrote to the county outlining a litany of deficiencies in the analysis needing to be corrected. At the same time, the monitor requested a list of documents used in the preparation of the analysis and the names of people who participated.
Earlier this month, after requesting an extension, the county responded with a legal analysis justifying its approach rather than specific responses to the monitor’s questions.
“The county’s deficient submission in response to the Monitor’s May 14 request is emblematic of the County’s general approach to providing information requested by the Monitor,” the legal papers say.
Johnson said the county has also missed deadlines for developing a public education campaign to broaden support for fair housing.
HUD is already holding up $12.6 million in community development funds to try to force the county to do more on zoning and other issues. The county is also in court over Astorino’s veto of legislation prohibiting landlords from discriminating against renters who use Section 8 or other governmental income to pay rent.
The zoning issue went to the courts last year when the county challenged the requirement that it develop a strategy to overcome exclusionary zoning that could include lawsuits against municipalities. The county lost on that point and didn’t appeal. But the county has argued it cannot develop a strategy to overcome exclusionary zoning that does not exist.
The monitor is asking for an order that in the future the county must object to information requests within five days and, if it objects, meet with the monitor within five days. A magistrate judge would resolve disputes.