North Hempstead Town and Westbury Village have crafted plans to share strategies and information in an effort to combat what local officials describe as the scourge of illegal housing.
Town and village officials plan to meet regularly to review ongoing investigations and reported illegal activity. Officials are piloting the initiative for the village and New Cassel, a neighboring hamlet.
Officials, who will announce the effort at a news conference Friday, said that if successful, the town program could expand to other communities, such as nearby Carle Place.
To start, town officials plan to place more code enforcement officers on New Cassel streets. The village has recently issued more search warrants, raised fines for offenses, and conducted housing sweeps, sending up to seven code enforcement officers to a section where illegal housing is particularly worrisome. The village conducted about a dozen housing sweeps in 2014 and issued about five or six search warrants, Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro estimated. North Hempstead's fines now range from $1,000 to $5,000.
"A lack of code enforcement yields more kids and more pressure on the schools," Cavallaro said in an interview on Thursday. "It says that this has to be done."
Different from the epidemic of foreclosed and abandoned "zombie homes" addressed in Newsday this week, illegal housing involves several families living in single-family homes, including attics or basements.
In some homes, landscapers and restaurant employees who work alternating day and night shifts share the same quarters but sleep there at different times in the day, officials said.
Robert Troiano, the town's director of operations, said overcrowding generates spillover costs to taxpayers. More cars are on the road, which necessitates more trips to properly plow the venues.
While it is difficult to count the number of illegal homes, an analysis of garbage disposed suggests overcrowding. For instance, the 7,500-resident Port Washington garbage district disposed of 1.1 tons of garbage last year, while the 7,300-resident New Cassel district had 2.4 tons.
John Niewender, North Hempstead's building commissioner, said the town is searching for more code enforcement officers. Six will be stationed in New Cassel each week, an increase from three.
Town officials said they are usually alerted to obvious signs of illegal housing, such as multiple antennas, doorbells and mailboxes, that trigger investigations. These signs are critical for code enforcement officers attempting to identify problem homes, officials said.
"The house with illegal housing isn't necessarily bigger than the house that doesn't have it," said Mitchell Pitnick, an attorney for the town.
Niewender said he hopes the town and village initiative yields new approaches. In a public service announcement, Cavallaro, town Councilwoman Viviana Russell and Supervisor Judi Bosworth urge residents to report housing issues. "Maybe there's a better way to combat the problem," Niewender said.