Opening Acts Newsletter: April 11, 2014

Town of Oyster Bay Sued for Racially Discriminatory Affordable Housing Programs

Evidence from FHJC Investigation Turned Over to U.S. Attorney

On April 10, 2014, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that a predominantly white suburban Nassau County community, a public official, and a non-profit housing organization engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination against African Americans in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. The suit alleges that the Town of Oyster Bay, Town Supervisor, and Long Island Housing Partnership, Inc., through the use of the “Next Generation” and “Golden Age” affordable housing programs discriminated against African Americans by giving a preference to Town of Oyster Bay residents and relatives of Oyster Bay residents. An earlier investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) yielded evidence of Oyster Bay’s discriminatory residency preferences in its zoning code and this information was shared with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2008.

According to the complaint, the “Next Generation” program, created in 2004, used zoning to offer incentives to developers to build housing affordable to first-time homebuyers with incomes between 80% and 120% of median Town income. The program gives first priority to Town residents and children of Town residents in a community where income eligible African Americans constituted less than 1% of the population. The income eligible population of Nassau County and Suffolk County was approximately 10% African American and the income eligible population in the New York City metropolitan area was approximately 20.5% African American. Two Next Generation housing developments were built, the Seasons at Plainview and the Seasons at Massapequa. A lottery, administered by Long Island Housing Partnership, ranked eligible residents ahead of all non-residents and, as a result, no African Americans were selected.

In 1993, the Town of Oyster Bay created a “Golden Age” housing program which encourages development of below market-rate housing for senior citizens through the Town’s zoning code. The program has created more than 1400 units of senior housing. This program also contains residency preferences. Income and age eligible African American residents in the Town constituted between zero percent and no more than four tenths of one percent of the population. The eligible African American population in Nassau County and Suffolk County was between 3% and 10% and the eligible African American population in the New York City metropolitan area was between 10% and 20%. Virtually all of the Golden Age housing units developed were purchased by whites who obtained their homes pursuant to residency preferences with only a handful of homes purchased by African Americans.

The government asserts that Oyster Bay’s Next Generation and Golden Age housing and zoning practices, including the residency preferences, denied African Americans the opportunity to purchase homes developed under these programs. In the lawsuit, the Department of Justice is seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “Discriminatory residency preferences proliferate in suburban areas around New York City. We hope this action by the Department of Justice will put suburban communities, housing authorities, and other housing providers on notice that using residency preferences to restrict access to affordable housing opportunities on the basis of race will not be tolerated.” Freiberg added, “While there is an urgent and unmet need to increase the supply of affordable housing throughout the New York region, the housing must be available on a non-discriminatory basis.”