BEDFORD, N.Y. – For years, the town of Bedford gave its own residents, employees and volunteer first responders the first chance to apply for middle-income housing whenever it became available. This practice, deemed discriminatory against African Americans by two civil rights organizations who sued the town a year ago, has been removed from the town’s zoning code following a settlement agreement filed last month.
Bedford and Blue Mountain Housing Development Corp, the town’s affordable housing affiliate, were hit with the federal housing discrimination lawsuit in July 2017 by Westchester Residential Opportunities and the Fair Housing Justice Center. At its June 19 meeting, the Town Board, while denying any wrongdoing, unanimously agreed to settle the suit by rewriting its code and paying $165,000.
The settlement, to be paid by town insurance, requires Bedford to alter its zoning code to remove any preferences for residents who want to live in middle-income housing. The code gave preferential treatment to town employees, volunteer first responders, school district employees, town residents, people who work in the town, relatives of town residents, county residents, and people who work in the county, in that order.
Now, residents for middle-income housing in Bedford, either rental or for sale, will be selected through a lottery system, or “another selection formula that is not based on residency or work preferences” and is not based on the order in which the applications are received.
The town’s definition of a “middle-income family” was also altered. The household income for families seeking to rent middle-income housing cannot exceed 80 percent of Westchester County’s Area Median Income, which ranges between $65,600 (one person) and $108,700 (six people), depending on the size of the family. For people looking to buy middle-income housing, their income cannot exceed 110 percent of the Area Median Income, ranging from $90,200 to $149,490.
Incentives to develop middle-income housing were also added to the code, allowing for the Planning Board to actively assist in obtaining financial assistance, and allow for reductions to lot size and parking requirements. The new code also calls for an expedited review process and a reduction in development fees (waive 30 percent of application fees, advertising fees, recreation fees, legal fees and engineering fees).
Certain town employees, elected officials and advisory board members will also be required to attend two fair housing training sessions provided by Westchester Residential Opportunities. The cost of these training sessions is included in the $165,000 settlement.
“The Town and Blue Mountain have denied the allegations and deny any wrongdoing and have taken the position that entering into the settlement is not to be construed as an admission of liability, or an acknowledgement that there is any merit to the allegations,” Supervisor Chris Burdick said in his weekly newsletter.
Administration of the town’s middle-income housing program will now be overseen by the Housing Action Council, a non-profit organization, which will help the town develop a middle-income housing marketing plan.
“This settlement is a step towards dismantling the segregation that still exists in Westchester as a result of exclusionary zoning codes. [Westchester Residential Opportunities] will continue to work towards the goal of equal opportunity in housing as promised 50 years ago by the federal Fair Housing Act,” said Marlene Zafres, the organization’s deputy director.
Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, said, “This agreement was crafted to ensure that all qualified households have equal access to middle-income housing opportunities in the Town of Bedford and to encourage the development of additional affordable and middle-income housing.”