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The Second Circuit Court of Appeals told Westchester County last week that it needs to get serious about compliance with a 2006 decree requiring the County to promote source-of-income legislation to ensure fair housing.
The decree evolved from a qui tam action filed by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York (ADC), alleging that the County submitted false claims to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order to obtain federal fair housing grant funds.
In 2009, the County entered a consent decree to resolve the lawsuit, and agreed to affirmatively further fair housing. As part of that obligation, the County agreed to "promote, through the County Executive, legislation currently before the Board of Legislators to ban 'source-of-income' discrimination in housing."
The legislation was to ban housing discrimination based upon an individual's source of income, primarily whether that income came from Social Security benefits or any form of state or federal public assistance, including Section 8 vouchers. But in 2010, County Executive Rob Astorino vetoed the source-of-income bill passed by the County Board of Legislators, the Mount Vernon Daily Voice reports.
When HUD complained to the district court that the County had violated the settlement, the County responded that the court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the housing agreement. The Second Circuit disagreed, holding that it was "plain from the face of the consent decree that the district court did indeed have jurisdiction to review the decision of the Magistrate Judge once it had been properly objected to by one of the parties -- in this case, the United States."
The appellate court also ruled against the County on the merits. In doing so, the court noted, "The County would have this Court rely upon the legitimate concerns that motivate modification of long-standing consent decrees to allow the County to shirk its voluntarily agreed to obligations, made less than four years ago, with no showing that the objects of the consent decree have been obtained and strong evidence indicating that they have not been. This we will not do."