It was after 1 am on Wednesday morning when Westchester County Board of Legislators approved a settlement of the fair housing suit brought by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York City and authorized $36 million in bonding to support development of new affordable housing units in communities with few racial minorities, as required by the settlement.
The suit alleged that Westchester made false statements about its efforts to integrate housing on applications for federal funding. Westchester County must spend a total of $50 million to help develop at least 750 new affordable units within seven years. (See: Larchmont Learns of County Affordable Housing Suit Settlement; or Local Impacts of Westchester Affordable Housing Lawsuit and Will Westchester Housing Lawsuit Hit Larchmont?
“I’m not happy with the agreement,” said Larchmont and Mamaroneck’s representative, Legislator Judy Myers in an interview with the Gazette later that morning. “I continue to believe the county acted in good faith. “
Nevertheless, she did vote for the settlement, the bond and an additional related act. As a representative of “a district that already has some of the highest property taxes in the nation” and already faces the “huge costs” of mandated upgrades to water treatment facilities, she found the “financial risks” of fighting the settlement to be “too great.”
“We could be looking at triple damages – it could be $300 million or more,” she said.
The vote came within the 45 days allotted to the legislature to deliberate on settling or going to trial. It took an “inordinate amount of work,” said Ms. Myers. “This was possibly the most fascinating and intricate issue I have encountered in my political career – up there with IKEA,“ she said, referring to the 2000 fight to keep a “big box store” from being built in New Rochelle near the Larchmont border. “And it gets to some of the same issues – who will decide our land use.”
How will the votes affect Larchmont and Mamaroneck? “We don’t know,” said Ms. Myers. “That was always the difficult part – not knowing the details of the implementation plan. We had to agree first and now we have to develop a plan by December 4.”
The legislators did approve a third act which empowers the legislature to set forth related policies and procedures. “The 17 legislators have the greatest knowledge of those municipalities they represent,” Ms. Myers explained. “This is a way to fully incorporate the interests of the municipalities into this plan.”
Local Leaders Get Details and Housing Maps
To answer questions and explain the settlement and the vote, Ms. Myers and Westchester County Executive Andy Spano met on Wednesday morning with representatives of the Sound Shore communities, including Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe, Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld and Mamaroneck Mayor Kathy Savolt.
It is unclear, as yet, how the future affordable units will be spread among communities, such as Larchmont Village and Mamaroneck Town, that have few minority residents.
According to Supervisor O’Keeffe, she and each municipal representative did get a map showing census blocks in their communities that were eligible for new development under the settlement. Some blocks already have sufficient numbers of minorities, for example, the area around Dillon Road in the Town of Mamaroneck and large parts of Mamaroneck Village. Other areas already have some minority residents and would be eligible for no more than 60 new affordable units. The blocks around Larchmont Village’s Post Road business district fall into this category. However, most Larchmont and Mamaroneck neighborhoods would not be restricted in the number of new units that could be built.
Unlike previous units built with Westchester County and federal funds, the new units will have to be marketed widely, and municipalities may not give preference to local residents or to their own work force (such as teachers, police or firefighters). Fair housing rules also do not allow race or ethnicity to be used to select prospective tenants or owners.
Like Ms. Myers, local leaders were not happy with the settlement.
“In my opinion, the lawsuit was outrageous and sets a frightening precedent in this country,” commented Mayor Liz Feld.
She characterized the meeting as “informative, “ But added, that she and her board have long expressed support for work force/affordable housing. “We will continue to examine opportunities for this housing in the Village, independent of the County’s lawsuit settlement.”
Supervisor O’Keeffe was similarly unimpressed.
“The decision has been made, and now we will implement it to the best of our ability,” said Ms. O’Keeffe. “But I still feel it is distasteful – and unwise – that the United States is categorizing people by their race and ethnicity in this day and age.”