City of Chester reaches agreement with AG to end discriminatory housing practices
The City of Chester and Orange County in upstate New York have reached agreements with New York Attorney General Letitia James to end their use of discriminatory housing practices designed to prevent members of the Jewish community from moving to Chester, James said on Friday. The agreements require the county and city to comply with the Fair Housing Act and take preventative measures to ensure fair housing practices in the future.
“The discriminatory and illegal actions perpetrated by Orange County and the City of Chester are blatantly anti-Semitic and run counter to the diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance of which New York is proud,” said James. “Every New Yorker deserves equal housing opportunity, regardless of gender, race, nationality or religion. Today and every day, I stand with all communities against hate and discrimination, which will not be tolerated in New York State.
James had previously intervened in a lawsuit brought by the promoters of “The Greens at Chester” alleging that the city and county were engaged in a concerted and systematic effort to prevent Jewish families from moving to Chester by blocking the construction of a housing estate. The original lawsuit, filed in July 2019, described discriminatory measures taken by Chester and Orange County to prevent the construction of houses to prevent Jewish families from buying and occupying them, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. , which states that it is illegal for anyone to refuse to sell or rent housing on the basis of an individual’s religion or race, among other protected classes.
In October 2017, developers at The Greens purchased a 117-acre property in Chester, which had been fully approved for residential development under the ownership of the previous developer. Since purchasing the property in 2017, city officials have repeatedly sought to block development of the site and have openly expressed their intention to block development during city public meetings, explicitly referring to their desire. to keep Hasidic families out of the community.
The city has also placed multiple obstacles in the path of developers in an attempt to thwart construction – all in violation of a settlement agreement, reached in 2010, regarding the zoning and construction of the land, according to the attorney general’s office. . The city passed a law to restrict the size of houses that could be built in order to make them uninhabitable for families, and put forward proposals to levy additional taxes on the development; limit the hours during which construction could take place on the site; and to require the developer to provide the personal information of its management partners to local officials.
The city also imposed requirements that the developer had to comply with before construction began, including requiring that a new sewer line be diverted and requesting that the main road be moved 10 feet. After the developer complied with each of these requests, the city still refused all requests for building permits. A separate agreement between the developers, Orange County, and the City of Chester helped move the construction of The Greens forward.
The deals announced Friday require the city and county to adopt policies to enforce fair housing regulations, including:
- Full respect for the Fair Housing Law;
- Adopt awareness-raising measures that disseminate information on equitable housing to communities;
- Administer fair housing trainings to county and city employees working in housing or planning;
- Appoint a Fair Housing Compliance Officer; and
- Document and report all housing discrimination complaints to the Attorney General’s office.
In statements Friday, Jewish organizations applauded the announcement and noted how James has taken a strong stand against discriminatory housing practices.
“We welcome the Attorney General’s settlement in this case, which we hope will finally end the long-standing anti-Semitic discrimination that is fully displayed in Orange County and the city of Chester,” said Scott Richman, regional director of Anti-Defamation. League in New York and New Jersey. “The conduct at issue in this case – the intentional and systematic blocking of the construction of a housing estate in order to keep Hasidic families out of the community – is not only illegal, but it is deeply hateful and has caused considerable pain to communities. Jews across the state.
“Not everyone understands the gravity and pervasiveness of prejudice against Hasidic Jews,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America. “Not everyone appreciates that the growth of the Hasidic community is a cause for celebration, not discrimination. Not everyone realizes that the law can be a powerful tool in ensuring fair housing opportunities for Hasidic families. With this lawsuit and settlement, Attorney General Tish James has proven – once again – that she gets it. “