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Westchester County's Zoning Laws 'Deemed Acceptable' Following Years-Long Fight With Feds

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Westchester County's long-running fight with the federal government over allegations of housing discrimination reached a milestone Tuesday, impacting the county's racial integration.

As CBS2's Brian Conybeare reported, the tree-lined streets in Westchester are some of the most expensive places to live in the nation.

But the county just took a major step forward in ending an eight-year battle over affordable housing and allegations of racial discrimination.

"The conclusion from HUD is that the zoning in Westchester County is not exclusionary, contrary to what they had been saying," Rob Astorino said.

The Republican county executive was joined Tuesday by leaders from some of the 31 mostly white communities that have been forced to build a total of 750 affordable housing units under a settlement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD sent a letter Friday, announcing the county's "analysis of impediments" to fair housing, like restrictive local zoning laws, was "deemed acceptable." The approval came after it was rejected 10 other times.

"If I thought there was discrimination in our zoning, then I would have agreed with HUD, and we would have made corrective actions – we would have forced corrective actions – but that just wasn't the case," Astorino said.

Westchester has spent about $84 million building the required housing and is now marketing them through a race-neutral lottery system.

Activists say getting the affordable housing units built is certainly a step in the right direction, as is getting the analysis of impediments approved, but they also say more needs to be done.

"There are of course impediments to fair housing," said Alexander Roberts, founder of the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition. "The 750 units is really a drop in the bucket."

Roberts says too many communities still have zoning laws that discourage multi-family developments, and because of that, Westchester remains segregated.

"A lot of the affordable housing – of those 750 units, 50 percent went to white people and only about 30 percent went to African-Americans," he said.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want to end the case.

"We look forward to continuing our partnership with the administration," Westchester County Board Chair Mike Kaplowitz said.

But the feds still have oversight for now, Conybeare reported.

A HUD spokesperson told CBS2 the only reason it approved the document after 10 rejections was because Westchester County finally admitted that local zoning laws "do affect" the racial makeup of a community's population.

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