Oyster Bay residents surprised by housing suit

The entrance of Seasons at Plainview, located on

The entrance of Seasons at Plainview, located on the N. Service Road of the LIE in Plainview, April 10, 2014. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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The federal lawsuit filed against Oyster Bay alleging discrimination against black people surprised homeowners in developments named in the suit.

Residents at The Seasons at Plainview said neighbors include Hispanics, Asians and Indians.

"We're very mixed here," said Sol Soto, 33, a stay-at-home mother and Puerto Rican from the Bronx who lives in the development, which was named in the suit with The Seasons at Massapequa. "We're very well represented as far as people from different backgrounds."

The case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against Oyster Bay and Supervisor John Venditto on Thursday alleges that preferences for town residents in housing programs for seniors and first-time home buyers violated the Fair Housing Act because of the low number of eligible black people in the applicant pool.

According to the suit, 2.3 percent of Oyster Bay residents are black, compared to 11.1 percent in Nassau County and 25.5 percent in New York City. The suit said that by restricting the search to Oyster Bay, otherwise eligible black people in the metropolitan area could not be considered for houses.

Though Soto sees a multiethnic community on her street, she said the preference for town residents "is a little discriminatory. I would have liked when they did the choosing if it would have included all of Nassau County," Soto said. "Diversity is not a bad thing."

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Tom Giorelle, 74, a retired mechanical engineer from Northrop Grumman, said the lawsuit "seems rather frivolous" given that his neighbors in Plainview were mixed. He said he didn't care who lived there, "as long as they can afford the place."

V. Elaine Gross, president of ERASE Racism, a Syosset-based nonprofit that advocates for racial equity, said the Justice Department case addresses a policy that reduces housing choices for black people. "You can have public policies that will keep people out essentially based on their race without someone saying overtly 'we don't want you to live here.' "

Venditto said the ordinances were designed to help Oyster Bay's seniors and young people without regard to race.

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"The programs may or may not be perfect, but I think our motives were," Venditto said. The fact that the Justice Department and the town "disagree as to whether or not these programs are wrongful, it happens, and that's what we have courts for, and that's why we are litigating."

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