Huntington may settle discrimination suit

Peter Florey, a Levittown developer, left, and Ulysses

Peter Florey, a Levittown developer, left, and Ulysses Spicer of the NAACP discuss the site of an undeveloped Huntington property that has long been the source of debate over potential affordable family housing in Melville. (Dec. 6, 2013) (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

Huntington officials are expected to vote on a settlement Tuesday that could end a decadelong housing discrimination dispute between the town and the local NAACP chapter.

A lawsuit filed in 2011 by the NAACP's Huntington chapter and the Fair Housing in Huntington Committee alleges a proposed affordable housing development in Melville discriminates against minorities and families because it calls for the sale of one-bedroom units.

"I think all people need decent, affordable housing," said Ulysses Spicer, second vice president of the Huntington NAACP. "Rental housing is needed in Huntington."


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The dispute -- which began in 2002 -- centers on whether affordable multi-bedroom rental apartments or one-bedroom owned units should be built on a vacant 8.1-acre site on Ruland Road, owned by the developer of the luxury senior complex Greens at Half Hollow.

The Ruland Road units were intended to offset a lack of affordable family housing acknowledged when the luxury development on Altessa Boulevard in Melville was approved in 2000.

The proposed settlement, as of last week, would include 117 rental units: 77 one-bedroom, 34 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom. Housing experts say Long Island needs both kinds of housing, but rentals, especially multiroom units, have a higher demand.

"If we're going to encourage middle-class families who don't want to or can't afford to buy a single-family home to live on Long Island, we're going to have to have units that accommodate more than one person or a childless couple," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Urban Studies at Hofstra University.

Levy said the Island has one of the metropolitan area's lowest ratios of rental apartments to home ownership -- about 1 to 5, according to the Long Island Index. That hurts Long Island's ability to "retain not just young people, but elderly people who don't want to live in a big house," Levy said.

David Calone, chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, said both kinds of housing are needed and that Huntington "has been a leader in providing more options for housing," citing the approved Avalon Bay development in Huntington Station.

Levy recommended that the town approve the settlement, as housing needs have changed, "and it's a stain on the reputation of the town."

When asked about housing discrimination, Elaine Gross, president of Erase Racism in Syosset, said one-bedroom units contribute to racial segregation on Long Island.

Gross said census data shows that black and Latino renters outnumber whites; and she said the minority groups typically have families and need larger housing.

She also said, "family housing, which certainly both African-Americans and Latinos need, is something which has been avoided at all costs."Most of the five town board members said they were undecided about Tuesday's vote.

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said he'll decide after he meets with the board at its work session Tuesday. "Not everybody is going to get what they want," he said. "Everybody has to realize that."

Petrone said Friday that the town needs both kinds of housing, but the Ruland Road site shouldn't have a mix because they have different "managerial issues."

Councilman Gene Cook said he plans to vote for the settlement. "This has been going on for over 10 years now . . . and it seems to me this should have been settled," he said.

Town officials said it has spent $400,000 on legal fees in the case dating to 2009 -- and Cook said the town will spend much more if the suit goes to trial.

Councilwoman Susan Berland said she has supported the one-bedroom ownership units for 13 years. "We need a place for young people to put down roots and stay," Berland said.

The issue before the court, she said, is do one-bedroom units discriminate against minorities, "and I don't believe they do."

Board members Mark Cuthbertson and Mark Mayoka said they are undecided.The NAACP and Fair Housing first sued the town in 2002, challenging the exclusion of minorities and families with children from the Greens at Half Hollow. In 2004, the groups amended the complaint to allege the same for the Ruland Road property -- which received zoning approval for one-bedroom units.

In March 2010, the planning board approved a site plan application for a one-bedroom development, The Sanctuary at Ruland Road. That July, a federal judge dismissed part of the 2004 NAACP/Fair Housing suit, clearing the path for 117 one-bedroom units. The NAACP and Fair Housing sued again in May 2011. Fair Housing is no longer part of the suit.

If the proposed settlement is approved, a Levittown developer is poised to build the rental units.

D & F Development Group, which has been working with the NAACP, is in contract to buy the Ruland Road property and has plans to build multibedroom rental, which would have preferences for veterans, the physically disabled and Huntington Town residents, said developer Peter Florey. This development would be called Ruland Knolls.

"Let's work together to finally resolve this," Florey said. "We now have the rare opportunity to offer quality residences to hardworking people for whom nearly all available housing is out of reach."

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