The Town 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 that were designed to prevent members of the Jewish community from moving to Chester, James announced Friday. The agreements mandate that the county and the town comply with the Fair Housing Act and take preventative measures to ensure equitable housing practices moving forward.
“The discriminatory and illegal actions perpetrated by Orange County and the Town of Chester are blatantly antisemitic, and go against the diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance that New York prides itself on,” James said. “Every New Yorker deserves equal opportunities in housing, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or their faith. 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 lawsuit filed by the developers of the “The Greens at Chester,” alleging that the town and county engaged in a concerted and systematic effort to prevent Jewish families from moving to Chester by blocking the construction of a housing development. The original lawsuit, filed in July 2019, outlined discriminatory actions that Chester and Orange County took to stop the homes from being built in order to prevent Jewish families from purchasing and occupying them, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which dictates that it is unlawful for anyone to refuse to sell or rent a dwelling based on an individual’s religion or race, among other protected classes.
In October 2017, the developers of 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 the purchase of the property in 2017, officials from the town repeatedly sought to block development of the site and openly expressed intent to block the development at public town meetings — explicitly referencing their desire to keep Hasidic families out of the community.
The town also placed multiple obstacles in the way of the 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 town passed a law to restrict the size of the houses that could be built in an attempt to make them uninhabitable for families, and advanced proposals to levy extra taxes on the development; to limit the hours that construction could occur on the site; and to require the developer to provide the personal information of its managing partners to local officials.
The town also imposed requirements that the developer had to comply with before construction could commence, including mandating that a new sewer waste line be rerouted and requesting the main road be moved by 10 feet. After the developer complied with each of these requests, the town still denied all building permit applications. A separate agreement between the developers, Orange County, and the Town of Chester has resulted in the construction of The Greens moving forward.
The agreements announced Friday mandate that the town and county enact policies to uphold fair housing regulations, including:
- Full compliance of the Fair Housing Act;
- Adopting outreach measures that disseminate information about fair housing to communities;
- Administering fair housing trainings to county and town employees working in housing or planning;
- Appointing a fair housing compliance officer; and
- Documenting and reporting of all housing discrimination complaints to the Office of the Attorney General.
In statements Friday, Jewish organizations applauded the announcement, and noted how James has taken a strong stance against discriminatory housing practices.
“We welcome the attorney general’s settlement in this case, which we hope will finally put an end to the longstanding, antisemitic discrimination on full display in Orange County and in the Town of Chester,” said Scott Richman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in New York and New Jersey. “The conduct at issue in this case — intentionally and systematically blocking the construction of a housing development in order to keep Hasidic families out of the community — is not only unlawful, but it is deeply hateful, and has caused significant pain for Jewish communities across the state.
“Not everybody understands the gravity and pervasiveness of bias against Hasidic Jews,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America. “Not everybody appreciates that the growth of the Hasidic community is cause for celebration, not discrimination. Not everybody 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.”