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Bedford sued by fair housing groups alleging racial discrimination

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Two fair housing organizations have sued the town of Bedford for allegedly discriminating against African-Americans by creating barriers to housing.

The organizations claim that Bedford and its Blue Mountain Housing Development Corp. created a system of preferences that make it difficult for African-Americans to qualify for the town’s middle-income affordable housing. The lawsuit claims that the town and its housing agency are violating the federal Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Justice Center, a Long Island City civil rights organization, and Westchester Residential Opportunities, a housing counseling agency that serves the lower Hudson Valley, filed the lawsuit in federal court in White Plains on July 26.

In 2005, the town created a preference system for allocating middle-income dwellings. Middle income is defined as $84,877 for one person, for example, and $144,291 for a family of six.

The first of eight preferences is for Bedford employees and active members of the fire departments and ambulance service. Next are school employees, then town residents, nonresidents employed in town and parents and children of residents. The last preferences go to other residents of Westchester County, other people employed in the county and then “all others.”

The preferences perpetuate demographic patterns, according to the lawsuit. The 2010 Census put the town’s population at 17,335. About 86 percent was white and 5 percent was African-American. That minority population is artificially inflated because nearly half of the inmates at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility are African-Americans, according to the lawsuit.

Employee preferences favor white applicants, the lawsuit says, because most of the municipal and school employees are white. Only 1.4 percent of the professional staff in the public schools, for instance, were African-American last year, and the wages of nonprofessional school employees were too low to enable them to afford middle-income dwellings.

Residential preferences also favor white people, the lawsuit says, because only 2 to 3 percent of the town’s eligible households are occupied by African Americans.

The housing groups sent undercover “testers” to inquire about housing opportunities. One was African-American and one was white. Both presented themselves as nonresidents.

The African-American tester was told that his wait could take several years, as an outsider, according to the lawsuit, and the white tester was told two to 10 years.

The housing groups are asking the court to require that middle-income housing be allocated by the application date and not by preferences.

Bedford Town Supervisor Chris Burdick said the town has not yet received the lawsuit but he defended its practices.

He said Bedford is a leader in affordable housing in the region. It has fully implemented federal Housing and Urban Development guidelines, including preferences. And it is “strongly committed to affirmatively furthering fair housing,” he said.

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