Lawsuit Challenges Discriminatory Zoning in Suburban Great Neck Plaza
Joint Investigation Finds Discrimination Based on Race, Age, and Disability
The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and Long Island Housing Services, Inc. (LIHS) filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that the Village of Great Neck Plaza and the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency (NCIDA) violated fair housing laws. The complaint alleges that the Village zoning code discriminates against African Americans by imposing eligibility criteria for affordable housing that gives a preference to local residents. The Plaintiffs allege that these preferences perpetuate residential racial segregation in the predominantly white Nassau County suburb. The suit also alleges that the Village zoning code excludes certain applicants for affordable housing based on age and disability. Finally, the complaint alleges that the NCIDA provided financial assistance for affordable housing in the Village subject to the Village zoning code’s discriminatory requirements and preferences.
The two plaintiff fair housing organizations cooperated on a joint investigation in 2013. Each organization sent in undercover testers to determine whether and how the residency preference system was being applied by the Village to screen applicants for 19 affordable apartments in a newly constructed 94-unit rental development called The Maestro. The testing revealed that the Village was enforcing durational residency preferences by giving the highest priority to long-term residents of the predominately white Village of Great Neck Plaza, the next highest preference to long-term residents of the predominately white Great Neck Peninsula, and the lowest preference to long-term residents of Nassau County. The testing also documented that the Village applied an illegal age requirement and excluded applicants with disabilities who have live-in home health care aides
As a member of the Nassau County Urban Consortium and a recipient of federal funding for housng and community development activities, the Village has a duty to affirmatively further fair housing and ensure that it does not violate the federal Fair Housing Act.
FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “In filing this lawsuit, our organizations hope to end the use of discriminatory residency preferences that restrict African Americans and other populations from gaining access to affordable housing opportunities. These practices, which proliferate throughout Long Island and the larger New York region, harm families, limit housing choice, and perpetuate residential racial segregation.” Freiberg added, “We must ensure that communities receiving federal tax dollars take appropriate steps to remove all discriminatory barriers to fair housing.”
“The severe shortage of decent, affordable housing juxtaposed with decades of entrenched racial segregation on Long Island and a blatant discriminatory application and screening process for these [Maestro] units paints a dire picture. The time to embrace the letter and spirit of Fair Housing laws is sorely overdue. Exclusionary zoning codes like this one perpetuate segregation and keep us divided. There is obviously still a great compliance gap that we hope to fill through this action,” observed Michelle Santantonio, LIHS Executive Director. She noted that “the lack of adequate affordable rental housing is very problematic on Long Island. This crisis is much more severe for people who are vulnerable to illegal discrimination and its related bias and ignorance.
Long Island Housing Services, Inc. is represented by Erik Heins, Fair Housing Staff Attorney. The Fair Housing Justice Center is represented by Diane L. Houk and David Lebowitz of the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.
The testing, conducted by the FHJC and LIHS, was funded under grants from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).