WSJ Opinion: Westchester Beats Obama

The feds concede that the suburb’s zoning laws aren’t discriminatory.

Westchester County Chief Executive Rob Astorino spent seven years fighting Obama-era Department of Housing and Urban Development accusations that his county’s zoning laws are racist. Now HUD has conceded that the suburban New Yorker was right all along.

In a one-paragraph memo sent to Westchester recently, HUD Regional Director Jay Golden accepted the county’s latest report demonstrating that local zoning laws are race-neutral. Westchester was required to produce this “analysis of impediments” to housing as part of a 2009 legal settlement between Mr. Astorino’s Democratic predecessor, Andrew Spano, and a liberal activist group.

Mr. Astorino called HUD’s memo a “vindication,” and it is—not least because Westchester demonstrated as early as 2010 that the county didn’t have racially exclusionary zoning practices. Westchester’s residents live where they want and can afford to live. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses (the most recent available), the county’s African-American and Hispanic populations rose 56%.

The Obama Administration had a larger social and political agenda, which was to use federal anti-discrimination law as a battering ram to rewrite local zoning laws. Westchester would be the model for the rest of the country, and as a Republican Mr. Astorino was an ideal foil to portray as a racist and then point to as a precedent to force racial housing quotas on neighborhoods across America.

As part of the settlement implementation, the agency deemed standard zoning, such as building heights or sewer placement to protect drinking water, as “restrictive practices” that the feds wanted to change. Westchester balked, recognizing the move as a federal takeover of local policy. The agency also ignored that Mr. Astorino exceeded the 2009 settlement’s mandate to facilitate the construction of 750 housing units in 31 mostly white communities over seven years.

Mr. Astorino fought back in court, producing 11 reports about the county’s zoning practices. The agency responded by withholding $23.4 million in development money meant for Westchester’s poorest communities over four years. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo used the dispute to portray the Republican as hostile to minorities when Mr. Astorino ran against the Democrat in 2014.

Now Mr. Astorino looks like a hero to Westchester residents who have already forked out $81.6 million for land acquisition and construction costs for the new housing, plus the $172 million contributed by state and federal taxpayers.

The misuse of federal regulatory enforcement to impose its liberal policy preferences was one of the worst excesses of the Obama Administration. Congratulations to Mr. Astorino and Westchester for refusing to give in to the extortion—and for winning in the end.

Further Reading

WSJ Editorial dated July 23, 2017 






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