WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The suburban county just north of New York City agreed Monday to create hundreds of affordable homes in heavily white communities and encourage nonwhites to move in.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which brokered the settlement with Westchester County, called it a landmark agreement that could have far-reaching national consequences. Officials said it signaled a new commitment to fair housing by the Obama administration.
"We're clearly messaging other jurisdictions across the country that there has been a significant change in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and we're going to ask them to pursue similar goals as well," said deputy secretary Ron Sims. He said Westchester "can serve as a model for building strong, inclusive, sustainable communities in suburban areas across the entire United States."
Westchester has dense urban areas but is best known for such suburban bedroom communities as Scarsdale and Chappaqua, where former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton live. Most of those villages are heavily white.
The agreement, filed and approved in federal court Monday, settled a $180 million lawsuit brought by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York. The lawsuit alleged that Westchester failed to build affordable housing and reduce segregation in some of the county's more affluent communities.
"Westchester can no longer hide from the ugly reality of continuing residential segregation," said Craig Gurian, the anti-discrimination center's executive director, after the settlement was announced.
The county's Legislature must approve the agreement.
A federal judge ruled in February that when Westchester sought federal housing and development funds, it failed to analyze, as required, how race could affect access to fair housing.
Westchester admitted no wrongdoing, but the ruling apparently spurred the county to involve the federal government and settle with the Justice Department when it intervened.
Westchester said it will build or acquire 750 apartments or houses in its towns and villages in the next seven years. Of that number, 630 are to be built in neighborhoods that are less than 3 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic.
The county's population is just less than 1 million.
Whites cannot be excluded from buying or renting the homes, but the agreement calls for Westchester to market them throughout the county and in nearby areas with large nonwhite populations. That includes New York City, which abuts Westchester along the Bronx line.
The agreement also calls for Westchester to pay the federal government $21.6 million, which the government will then return to the county to help pay for the housing. The county will add $30 million to its capital budget for housing. An additional $10.9 million will be paid to the anti-discrimination center, its lawyers and the government.
Westchester's deputy county executive, Susan Tolchin, said the agreement recognizes that the county does not control local zoning and the monitor would be permitted to "give us some flexibility about the (seven-year) deadline."
County Executive Andrew Spano said the county has built more than 1,700 units of affordable housing in the last decade, but some communities have resisted affordable housing with zoning and other regulations.
"We're looking for new, innovative, creative ways of doing this with acquiescence from those communities," he said. "We'd rather not do it by litigation."