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The United States Department of Justice has commenced an action against the Town of Oyster Bay on Long Island for violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]. In its complaint, the United States alleges that two housing programs to develop below-market rate housing for first time homeowners and senior citizens discriminate against African-Americans because the programs give preference to residents of the Town, which is predominantly white.
“Housing programs designed to help young families and senior citizens purchase homes should be available to people of all races, including African Americans,” stated Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “To the extent residency preferences prevent families and senior citizens from purchasing homes because of race, ethnicity or color, the preferences violate federal law and cannot be tolerated.”
Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, stated, “The Fair Housing Act protects the right of all individuals, regardless of their race, to choose where to live and to have equal access to affordable housing. Today’s lawsuit is a reminder that if municipalities wish to adopt residency preferences such as those imposed by the defendants, they must do so in a way that does not discriminate against people based on race.”
At issue are two Town zoning incentive programs. The “Next Generation” housing program encourages developers to build below-market rate housing for first time homebuyers, generally young families. The “Golden Age” housing program similarly offers incentives for the construction of below-market rate housing for senior citizens. Developers who build housing under the programs receive zoning variances which allow them to build housing more densely than under current zoning restrictions in exchange for lower sale prices for certain units. Both programs require developers to award units constructed under the programs to residents and children of residents of the Town.
According to the United States’ complaint, the residency preferences discriminate against African Americans because very few African Americans reside in the Town and even fewer are eligible for the program as compared to the population of African Americans in surrounding communities, which are significantly more diverse. For example, African Americans constituted less than 1% of families living in the Town of Oyster Bay who were income eligible and otherwise qualified to purchase housing under the Next Generation program. Conversely, whites made up as much as 90% of the pool of eligible families. The eligible population of Nassau County and Suffolk County residents was approximately 10% African American and between 70% and 75% white. The eligible population in the New York City metropolitan area was approximately 20.5% African-American and approximately 48% white.
Also named as defendants are John Venditto, the Oyster Bay Town Supervisor, in his official capacity, and Long Island Housing Partnership (“LIHP”), the not-for-profit organization which is responsible for administering the Next Generation housing program, including implementing the residency preferences for the Town.
The complaint was filed with an accompanying settlement between the United States and LIHP. LIHP has agreed to injunctive relief pursuant to which LIHP will ensure that residency preferences it administers are analyzed so that they do not violate fair housing laws. LIHP will also provide education and training to localities, banks and individuals on Long Island regarding the requirements of fair housing laws.
This case is being handled by Eastern District of New York Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Goldberger and Thomas A. McFarland, and Trial Attorney Neta Borshansky of the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section.
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