First proposed nearly 20 years ago, Westchester County Executive George Latimer earlier this month signed into a law a new bill designed to promote housing equality in the county.
Joined by current and former sponsors of the bill — including the new State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, State Senator-elect and former Housing Committee Chair Peter Harckham, and even Latimer’s own Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins — Latimer praised the finished bill as legislation all parties from all sides were pleased with.
“We are grateful to have a democratic process where we can argue, disagree, we can be heated, but we are also willing to engage long enough to find closure,” he says, “and when we do find closure it is a sign of the strength of the American system across party lines and different levels of government.”
The new law requires co-op boards acknowledge receipt of all completed applications within 15 days, and a final acceptance or rejection within 60 days. Moreover, it also requires all rejections be submitted to the county’s Human Rights Commission, which is newly empowered to track and address any patterns of perceived discrimination by individual co-op boards.
“This law creates a process where if you see patterns of certain things happening, we can provide education — which is a result of conversations back and forth and listening to everyone,” says Jenkins.
Barry Kramer, broker and owner of Westchester Choice Realty, says, “Discrimination in the co-op buying process is something that no Westchester resident should be subjected to and I thank the County Executive, Deputy County Executive, and the Board of Legislators for taking this step to ensure that.”
Support for the bill also came from local housing boards. “This was a hard fought compromise that came from the efforts of reasonable, good people with a social benefit in mind,” says Executive Director of the Building and Realty Institute and the Cooperative and Condo Advisory Council of Westchester, Albert Annunziata. “My colleagues and I at the BRI and CCAC are in support of this collaborative effort to make the applications and approval process even better. We already have a process of how we can remove from our organizations any co-op that is found to have taken part in discriminatory practices and we have zero tolerance for discrimination.”
The new law immediately takes effect, and has a built-in “sunset clause,” meaning it will expire in three years’ time so as to allow legislators to evaluate it’s effectiveness and impact on local housing markets.