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Nassau IDA to use affordable housing tax breaks to target bias

Nassau County IDA members Christopher Fusco, left, Lewis

Nassau County IDA members Christopher Fusco, left, Lewis Warren, center, and Anthony Simon during a meeting in May.   Credit: Newsday / Daysi Calavia-Robertson

Nassau County will use tax breaks to increase the amount of affordable private housing to push back against the evidence of unequal treatment toward minority home buyers uncovered by Newsday's investigation into potential housing discrimination, officials said.

The county’s Industrial Development Agency — which reduces property, mortgage recording and sales taxes for developers — pledged Thursday to encourage developers to build more multifamily housing in Nassau, particularly affordable units.

IDA chairman Richard Kessel, referring to the Newsday findings in its three-year "Long Island Divided" investigation, said: “A lot of people feel really disgusted by some of the practices that are out there and have been out there for many years. … One of the best things that can be done to help deal with the problem is to create more housing, because if we can create more housing, especially affordable housing, then that gives families more choices.” 

Helping to increase the number of apartments, condominiums and town houses “will be a major priority for the IDA in 2020,” Kessel said, adding the most generous tax incentives will be reserved for developers of affordable housing.

Long Island's eight IDAs have spurred the building of thousands of apartments near Long Island Rail Road stations and many assisted living facilities across both counties.

Thursday, the Nassau IDA board agreed to negotiate tax break deals for 60 apartments on Fulton Street in Farmingdale and 80 apartments on the site of the Capri Motor Inn in Lynbrook. The Farmingdale project is 100% affordable; the Lynbrook project is 10%.

Timothy Williams, IDA board secretary, suggested the agency provide a telephone number and email address on its website so prospective home buyers and renters can report incidents of discrimination at IDA-supported projects.

“Our clients, if they participate or in any way engage in any level of discrimination, it should be an instant default of their rights” to continue receiving tax breaks, said Williams, a banker. “You cannot use taxpayer assistance and then discriminate.”

Recipients of IDA aid are told as part of their application for tax breaks that fair housing and equal housing opportunity are required. Recipients are asked annually to certify that they are abiding by all IDA regulations and risk losing tax breaks if found to be in default.

Williams, who is African-American, cited acts of discrimination by real estate agents toward his family. He said ensuring fair housing in the county “is something [the IDA needs] to play a role in.”

Board vice chairman Lewis M. Warren, who also is a banker, agreed. “We have to increase the housing stock on Long Island if we are going to solve some of the issues identified by Newsday," he said. "We’re talking about fairness, just simply treating people of the same economic means fairly and equitably.”

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