NEW YORK COUNTY FIGHTS FED’S SOCIAL ENGINEERING DEMANDS
by William Perry Pendley
December 1, 2011
Westchester County, New York lies north of New York City and its five boroughs, east of the Hudson River, and west of Long Island Sound and Connecticut. Its five hundred square miles is home, declares the 2010 Census, to nearly a million residents whose median family income makes Westchester County New York’s second and the Nation’s seventh wealthiest county. Westchester County is known for its “old money” and as home to some of America’s richest families (Nelson Rockefeller had a mansion here), but the County is also among the most racially diverse in the Empire State, behind only Manhattan, the Queens, and the Bronx.
Westchester County has six cities—the largest is Yonkers, New York’s fourth largest—19 towns, and 20 villages, and is governed by the Board of Legislators and County Executive; however, their share powers are limited by the home rule rights of the County’s cities, towns, and villages. Since the 1990s, Westchester County has voted Democratic; in 2008, Senator Obama garnered 63 percent of the vote. But being rich, racially diverse, and substantially left of center politically did not protect the county, its elected officials, and tax-payers from being targeted by the Obama Administration for a precedent-setting exercise in social engineering.
In 2006, a nonprofit group sued Westchester County under the False Claims Act (FCA) alleging that, since 2000, the County made false statements to the federal government when it obtained over $45 million in housing and other grants. Specifically, the group alleged that, when the County certified that it would “affirmatively further fair housing,” it knew that statement to be false because it also “knew” that housing in Westchester County was racially segregated but failed to analyze racial discrimination and segregation as impediments to fair housing and failed to take steps to overcome barriers to fair housing that affects minorities.
Westchester County fought back. It argued that the New York federal district court lacked jurisdiction because the “facts” in the complaint had been disclosed by the County and not discovered by the group. The court ignored precedent to the contrary and rejected that defense. Westchester County argued that federal regulations did not require the “analysis” the group demanded; in fact, after the lawsuit was filed, federal regulators rewrote their rules to require such analysis. The court created a national precedent when it held the regulations required that analysis. Finally, Westchester County argued that “scarcity of affordable housing” and not “racial segregation or discrimination” was the main impediment to fair housing and that population patterns were the result of personal choice, transportation, job availability, infrastructure, land cost, and income related issues. The court rejected that defense as well, ruled that the County had made false statements, and set the matter for trial.
Westchester County was in a fix. To assess damages under the FCA, the court totals what Westchester County received due to its “false statements” and then trebles it; the court then adds a fine of $5,500 to $11,000 for each statement as well as attorneys’ fee and expenses for the group that brought the lawsuit. Total potential damages and fines: $180 million! That is not all. Because the United States intervened in the lawsuit, damages and fines could exceed $300 million. Westchester County settled for $62.5 million: $51.6 million to build 750 affordable housing units, $8.4 million to the U.S. Department of Justice, and $4.5 million to the group’s attorney. Westchester County inked the agreement.
Then the madness began. A top U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official now says the agreement “is not merely about bricks and mortar.” Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino responds that the federal government has turned the agreement into “an open-ended utopian integration order.” Westchester County is fighting back, but the precedent set by the newly enriched nonprofit group after teaming up with the Obama Administration must strike fear into the hearts of local officials all across the country.
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