Landmark housing desegregation lawsuit settled — Texas cities next?

A Westchester County suit in federal court, charging local governments failed to “affirmatively further fair housing” has been settled on terms favorable to those who challenged racial housing segregation in the majority white communities.

The New York Times is reporting that, “Westchester County officials have entered into a landmark desegregation agreement that would compel the county to create affordable housing in overwhelmingly white communities and aggressively market it to nonwhites in the county and in neighboring New York City.”

Fair housing advocates I’ve spoken to are hailing this as “huge”. It represents the first time that HUD’s longstanding requirement that local governments that are recipients of federal funds “affirmatively further fair housing” is enforced through court action.

The remedy in this case is sweeping.

“The county will spend more than $50 million to build or acquire 750 homes or apartments, 630 of which must be provided in towns and villages where blacks constitute 3 percent or less of the population and Hispanic residents make up less than 7 percent. The county has seven years to complete the construction or acquisition of the affordable housing units,” the Times reported.

The Times described the actions of the local governments that were successfully challenged…

The lawsuit, filed under the federal False Claims Act, argued that when Westchester applied for federal Community Development Block Grants for affordable housing and other projects, county officials treated part of the application as boilerplate — lying when they claimed to have complied with mandates to encourage fair housing.

The county’s claims were largely repudiated in February when Judge Denise L. Cote ruled in Federal District Court that between 2000 and 2006 the county had misrepresented its efforts to desegregate overwhelmingly white communities when it applied for the federal funds.

Judge Cote concluded that Westchester had made little or no effort to find out where low-income housing was being placed, or to finance homes and apartments in communities that opposed affordable housing.

The case is significant because the federal court case attacked housing segregation not as an isolated act but as the cumulative effect of actions by local governments. This case should serve as a warning to state and local government that ignoring their duty to “affirmatively further fair housing” can come at a high cost.

I’ll predict that we see this case cited in litigation in Texas very soon.

There is a fact sheet of the key elements of the settlement prepared by the Anti Discrimination Center.