County agrees to market housing to minorities

(AP) - Westchester County says it agreed Monday to create hundreds of affordable homes inheavily white communities and encourage nonwhites to move in.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, whichbrokered the settlement with Westchester County, called it alandmark agreement that could have far-reaching nationalconsequences. Officials said it signaled a new commitment to fairhousing by the Obama administration.

"We're clearly messaging other jurisdictions across the countrythat there has been a significant change in the Department ofHousing and Urban Development and we're going to ask them to pursuesimilar goals as well," said deputy secretary Ron Sims. He saidWestchester "can serve as a model for building strong, inclusive,sustainable communities in suburban areas across the entire UnitedStates."

Westchester has dense urban areas but is best known for suchsuburban bedroom communities as Scarsdale and Chappaqua, whereformer President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary RodhamClinton live. Most of those villages are heavily white.

The agreement, filed and approved in federal court Monday,settled a $180 million lawsuit brought by the Anti-DiscriminationCenter of Metro New York. The lawsuit alleged that Westchesterfailed to build affordable housing and reduce segregation in someof the county's more affluent communities.

"Westchester can no longer hide from the ugly reality ofcontinuing residential segregation," said Craig Gurian, theanti-discrimination center's executive director, after thesettlement was announced.

The county's Legislature must approve the agreement.

A federal judge ruled in February that when Westchester soughtfederal housing and development funds, it failed to analyze, asrequired, how race could affect access to fair housing.

Westchester admitted no wrongdoing, but the ruling apparentlyspurred the county to involve the federal government and settlewith the Justice Department when it intervened.

Westchester said it will build or acquire 750 apartments orhouses in its towns and villages in the next seven years. Of thatnumber, 630 are to be built in neighborhoods that are less than 3percent black and 7 percent Hispanic.

The county's population is just less than 1 million.

Whites cannot be excluded from buying or renting the homes, butthe agreement calls for Westchester to market them throughout thecounty and in nearby areas with large nonwhite populations. Thatincludes New York City, which abuts Westchester along the Bronxline.

The agreement also calls for Westchester to pay the federalgovernment $21.6 million, which the government will then return tothe county to help pay for the housing. The county will add $30million to its capital budget for housing. An additional $10.9million will be paid to the anti-discrimination center, its lawyersand the government.

Westchester's deputy county executive, Susan Tolchin, said theagreement recognizes that the county does not control local zoningand the monitor would be permitted to "give us some flexibilityabout the (seven-year) deadline."

County Executive Andrew Spano said the county has built morethan 1,700 units of affordable housing in the last decade, but somecommunities have resisted affordable housing with zoning and otherregulations.

"We're looking for new, innovative, creative ways of doing thiswith acquiescence from those communities," he said. "We'd rathernot do it by litigation."

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