Court: Affluent New York county making fair housing excuses

An affluent county north of New York City is "engaging in total obstructionism" after promising to build affordable housing eight years ago that can be marketed to nonwhites, a federal appeals panel said Friday.

The three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected an appeal by lawyers for Westchester County, an area of nearly a million people that has some of the wealthiest communities in the nation.

A lower court had found in July and May 2016 that Westchester violated a consent decree reached in 2009 with the Department of Justice.

The 2nd Circuit noted that the county had appealed seven times in response to a judge's "ongoing effort to ensure the county's compliance with its obligations under the consent decree."

"All of these appeals have been rejected, and it is apparent the county is engaging in total obstructionism," the appeals court said. "The county would be well-advised to stop making excuses and to complete its obligations under the consent decree with diligence and dispatch."

Westchester County spokesman Ned McCormack said the county was surprised by the 2nd Circuit's comments. He said the county has worked with a new monitor and consultant approved by the monitor to complete its remaining obligations.

"We are confident the remaining requirements can be met and the settlement concluded in a timely manner," McCormack said.

The appeals court acted only a week after Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi angrily scolded the county during oral arguments, saying Westchester had engaged in "consistent evasion."

Attorney Robert Meehan, representing Westchester County, said during those arguments that the county was exceeding requirements of the consent decree calling for it to build or acquire 750 units of affordable housing over seven years and market them to nonwhites.

The U.S. government had accused Westchester County of failing to live up to consent decree requirements that it counter municipal opposition to construction projects. It said those failures were illustrated by its inability to overcome obstacles to building 28 units of affordable housing north of the Metro-North Rail station in Chappaqua.

Chappaqua ins in the town of New Castle, which is overwhelmingly white with a population 4 percent Hispanic and 1.6 percent black, while Westchester County averages 21.8 percent Hispanic and 14.6 percent black.