(Adds statement from Westchester County)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, April 28 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday admonished New York’s wealthy Westchester County to stop its “total obstructionism” in implementing an agreement designed to boost affordable housing.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its warning after finding that Westchester, one of the nation’s richest suburbs, twice breached a 2009 consent decree requiring it to build 750 affordable housing units in 31 mostly white communities.
“We are surprised by the court’s comments” given Westchester’s efforts to implement the decree, Ned McCormack, a spokesman for County Executive Rob Astorino, said in a statement.
Westchester had agreed with the federal government to enter the decree in connection with the settlement of a lawsuit by the nonprofit Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York.
It said roughly 400 of the affordable units are already occupied, and that it has lined up more building permits and financing than required.
But U.S. District Judge Denise Cote last year found Westchester in breach by failing to build 28 units at Chappaqua Station in the town of New Castle.
She also found the county in breach for failing to complete an analysis acceptable to the Department of Housing and Urban Development of race-based and other impediments to fair housing.
In Friday’s order, a three-judge appeals court panel agreed that the failure to build the 28 units reflected Westchester’s “inconsistent, slow, and half-hearted” support for the project, and refusal to use the required “all available means as appropriate” to counteract local opposition.
It also said HUD had “good reason” to reject Westchester’s analysis of fair housing barriers, including its lack of adequate strategies to address “problematic” zoning practices.
But the court saved its strongest criticism for the end, after noting that its order covered Westchester’s sixth and seventh appeals over its compliance with the decree.
“All of these appeals have been rejected, and it is apparent that the county is engaging in total obstructionism,” it said.
“The county would be well-advised to stop making excuses, and to complete its obligations under the consent decree with diligence and dispatch,” it added.
McCormack said Westchester has been working with a federal monitor and a consultant hired to study fair housing impediments to complete its remaining obligations under the decree.
The Anti-Discrimination Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case is U.S. ex rel Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York Inc v Westchester County, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 16-2540, 16-2549. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)