RYE BROOK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Federal prosecutors are focusing on what some are calling class segregation – suburban communities that make it difficult to build affordable housing.
CBS2’s Lo Young took a look Friday at the battleground in Westchester County.
Trapped in their apartment in a rough neighborhood, Crystal Huerta’s working-class family dreams of moving to a leafy suburb just out of reach.
“There are a lot of nice places to live in Westchester County, but the rent is outrageous,” said Huerta, of Yonkers.
The conditions at the affordable housing apartment in Yonkers are deplorable, as crime plays out on security cameras.
“We have a park here; I don’t let my kids go back there,” Huerta said.
Ramon Colon added that he wants to get out of the development “definitely, yeah, without a doubt,” but when asked where he could go, he replied, “Nowhere.”
Their landlord, an affordable housing provider, said the lack of options is no accident.
“I don’t want to part of that anymore,” said Alec Roberts of Community Housing Innovations. “For decades. we’ve been putting all of the affordable housing in high-crime, high-poverty, high-minority areas. It’s un-American, and it’s wrong.”
Roberts pointed to towns and villages in Westchester County where most mornings, the affluent board trains to New York City and the working class arrives on the opposite tracks. He said local zoning regulations have been designed to preserve upper-class enclaves.
“There are dozens of developers who would build plenty of multi-family housing in these areas, but it’s the government saying, ‘No, we’re only going to let you built single-family houses on large lots,’” Roberts said.
This summer, seven Westchester County communities got letters from <a href=”http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/04/24/westchester-county-in-hot-water-over-affordable-housing-settlement/”?the U.S. Department of Justice, demanding to know what they are doing to correct so-called “exclusionary zoning.”
It is a hit list of potential enforcement actions that could amount to fines under the federal Fair Housing Act. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino calls it bullying.
“These letters are not a suggestion,” Astorino said. “There’s an overt intimidation to the communities by the big bad federal government.”
Astorino has been at odds with feds over this issue since he took office — chafing under the provisions of a consent decree agreed to by his predecessor and claiming the feds have overstepped their bounds.
He has attempted to take a minimalist approach to affordable housing.
“This was put together by a Democratic administration,” Astorino said. “We inherited that, and we’re complying, and we’re going to finish this to make sure that we do what we’re supposed to do, but we’re not going to go over and beyond.”
But the feds seem ready to go around the recalcitrant county executive. Communities who received letters have approved new apartment projects and new zoning categories to get out of the line of fire.
Rye Brook Administrator Christopher Bradbury said right now, it is possible to build affordable housing “anywhere through the village.” Rye Brook is apparently off the federal list for prosecution.
The other towns are still waiting for word.
Westchester County is obligated to build $51 million worth of affordable housing in predominantly white communities, but federal regulators complain the process has been slower than they’d like.