WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A suburban New York City county is taking some heat after the federal government Friday asked a judge to force the county to provide information about local zoning practices that might be racially discriminatory.
The motion by the U.S. attorney's office stems from a 3-year-old settlement of a lawsuit over racial patterns in housing. The settlement required Westchester, a suburban county just north of New York City, to build 750 units, mostly in heavily-white areas, and market them to non-whites.
Many wealthy celebrities and other prominent people, including former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, live in such areas.
The housing construction is on schedule, but the settlement also requires Westchester to analyze barriers to fair housing, including any local zoning that might affect blacks or Hispanics.
The motion accuses Westchester of failing to do that analysis properly. The county has issued two reports — the government rejected the first one earlier this year — asserting that because multifamily housing is permitted somewhere in every municipality, there are no such barriers.
The federal monitor on the case, James Johnson, said in court papers Friday that the county's report "failed to provide a legal basis, facts or analysis that would adequately support its conclusion that exclusionary zoning did not exist."
He also said Westchester was uncooperative with him in other dealings, and he cited several examples of the county requesting extensions of deadlines at the last moment. He said the county's compliance "has been all too frequently marked by delay, incomplete production and, at times, wholesale failure to respond."
He asked that the court include specific procedures for the county to follow in the future when it objects to any request for information.
The government's legal memo says, "The county's consistent failure to comply with the monitor's requests for information is ... preventing the parties from reaching the ultimate goal of the settlement — the development of fair and affordable housing."
Ned McCormack, a spokesman for County Executive Rob Astorino, said he was "surprised to the point of being flabbergasted" when the motion was filed. He blamed the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a key party to the settlement, which has echoed many of the monitor's concerns.
"To go to court on something like this is another example of HUD trying to bully the county," McCormack said. "We're building the housing. It's hard to see what purpose is served by going to court."