Judge orders Garden City to alter housing practices, welcome minorities

Hempstead village residents, NAACP officials and members of Hempstead village residents, NAACP officials and members of civic groups during the "Freedom Ride" bus trip to Garden City where they held a rally for change against housing discrimination on June 11, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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A federal judge has ordered Garden City to remedy the impact of discriminatory housing policies after almost a decade of litigation.

U.S. District Court Justice Arthur D. Spatt issued a final judgment in Central Islip on Tuesday, concluding a lawsuit against the village brought by advocacy group New York Communities for Change and MHANY Management Inc., a Brooklyn-based nonprofit developer of affordable housing.

Garden City officials deny having racially discriminatory policies and say the village board will decide within 30 days whether to appeal.

The other side says it's a significant win. "This [is a] tremendous victory for all people of color and low income communities in Long Island," Diane Goins, head of the NYCC's Long Island chapter, said in a statement.

"We are proud to have persevered after such a long fight and believe this victory will be the first of many so that more affordable housing is built in Garden City and Long Island."

Spatt ruled in December, after a two-week trial last summer, that Garden City had violated the federal Fair Housing Act, the U.S. Constitution, and other civil rights statutes when it enacted a zoning ordinance in 2004 in response to public pressure to keep multifamily housing out of the overwhelmingly white (93 percent) village.

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Plaintiffs argued the decision to adopt zoning for single-family and town homes -- instead of for multifamily housing -- made affordable housing economically unfeasible on the 25-acre site of the old Nassau County Department of Social Services office.

Garden City spokesman Edward Grilli said in a statement that village officials have done nothing wrong. "The Village continues to believe that it did not act with discriminatory intent when it enacted a zoning change . . . and that it has complied with all applicable fair housing requirements," he said.

The court judgment imposed mandatory steps, which Garden City must fund, including annual training for elected officials and housing employees and enacting a fair housing resolution.

The village must rezone the social services site to allow residential multifamily housing if Nassau County, the property owner, intends to sell the parcel within a year of the judgment. County officials have said they want to redevelop the building as a family court.

Otherwise, Garden City must set aside 10 percent of future multifamily developments for affordable housing and join the Nassau County Urban Consortium, a group of municipalities eligible to receive federal funding for affordable housing development.

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"Local and state governments need to take note of this case and understand that using restrictive zoning to bar minority residency will not be tolerated," said Stanley Brown, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and a partner at Manhattan-based Hogan Lovells US. "It has been a long campaign, but a worthy one on behalf of civil rights."

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