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Letters-to-the-Editor & Commentary

The $9.5 million Fair Housing Settlement Against Greenburgh Was No “Clerical Error”

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June 4, 2021

The Town of Greenburgh should not be allowed to sweep under the rug a $9.5 million settlement in federal court against the town. In what may be a record for a fair housing case in the U.S., a developer who wanted to build 45 units of affordable housing off Central Avenue in Edgemont received the  payout, which did not include the $4.2 million in town legal fees to fight the lawsuit.

In a press release, Supervisor Paul Feiner blamed the case on a “clerical error” on a zoning map that included the property off Central Avenue in the Central Business District. It is across the street from the Greenburgh Nature Center on Dromore Road.  However, that clerical error existed on zoning maps going back to 1997, and perhaps even longer. The settlement capped a litigation that started in 2007 in the state courts, during which time judges ruled that the town’s two attempts to rezone the property after the multifamily development was proposed were illegal, saying it was “not based on evidence but was arbitrary and capricious, based on community pressure and bad faith.”

The effort to stop this development must be seen in the context of affordable housing development in Edgemont. In 2015, I was engaged by S&R, the plaintiff in the case, to write a letter to the planning board supporting an affordable housing bonus, owing to my nearly 30 years of experience in the affordable housing sector.

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My research discovered there had been no affordable housing development in Edgemont for over 50 years.  Unsurprisingly, Edgemont is only 1.2% Black; no students in the Edgemont School District are eligible for free or reduced price lunches.

The town has put nearly all of its affordable housing projects in racially mixed Fairview, leading to the conclusion by Westchester County Legislator Alfreda Williams, a former Greenburgh Town Clerk, that the Town Board has purposely steered almost all of the Town’s low-income housing to that community. She added that the result has been the “ghettoizing” of the area. It is a tragic irony that the town will make Fairview taxpayers pay for the lawsuit, along with Edgemont and the other unincorporated areas of Greenburgh. The Rivertowns are excluded.

The $14 million incurred by Greenburgh–with $2.7 million covered by insurance–recalls the Town’s $6.5 million settlement in 2013 (with $1 million covered by insurance), at that time the largest ever paid for religious discrimination.  The Pentacostal-affiliated Fortress Bible Church brought the action after the town tried to stop the mostly Black congregation from building on Pomander Drive next to the Sprain Brook Parkway.

To characterize the Dromore Road settlement as due to a “clerical error” would ignore town zoning that has perpetuated economic and racial segregation. As Brookings Fellow Bruce Katz recently said in a similar context, “…reform is hard fought because the headwinds against change are strong, structural, and deeply obscured within the arcana of bureaucratic procedure.”

 

Alexander Roberts

The writer is a member of The Hudson Independen’st Editorial Board

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