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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Farmingdale deserves praise for settling housing suit

The apartments at 150 Secatogue Ave. at the

The apartments at 150 Secatogue Ave. at the corner of Secatogue Ave. and Conklin Street in Farmingdale. (Oct. 14, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

The Village of Farmingdale was smart, and courageous, in settling an 8-year-old housing discrimination lawsuit rather than -- like too many other local municipalities -- launching appeal after appeal after appeal.

The village and Mayor Ralph Ekstrand dealt honestly and forthrightly with allegations of racial discrimination in housing.

"We hope to become a model for housing development on Long Island and the nation," Ekstrand said Wednesday.

Ekstrand praised Hofstra University School of Law for its "determined efforts to represent people who otherwise might not have had a voice." The voices are those of Latinos who lived in a dilapidated multifamily housing complex at 150 Secatogue Ave. They were evicted after the sale of the property to a developer for an upscale project that was fast-tracked.

That was in 2006, when Farmingdale and other local municipalities were grappling with a sharp increase in undocumented immigrant workers.

A federal lawsuit alleged that Farmingdale failed to force the building owner to make sorely needed repairs, and that officials supported the sale as part of a systemic effort to push Latinos from the village.

Farmingdale denied the claims, saying it had tried to force repairs and that the owner had every right to sell the property.

Without this week's settlement, the fight could have gone on and on and on:

Just as in Huntington, where the town board last month decided to keep negotiating on a housing discrimination-related fight that began in 2002. The board's inaction had led a federal magistrate to set a February trial date to settle the question of whether development proposed for a vacant 8.1-acre site on Ruland Road in Melville discriminates against minorities and families because it calls for sale of one-bedroom units.

Just as in Garden City, which has decided to appeal a federal court ruling last month that village officials discriminated against minorities in enacting a 2004 zoning ordinance to halt the prospect of affordable housing in the village. Justice Arthur D. Spatt's decision came after a two-week trial on an 8-year-old lawsuit.

And just as in Island Park, which last month reached a tentative $1.96 million settlement with the federal government. That came after a two-decade legal battle in which officials were accused of violating fair-housing laws and diverting to friends and family homes earmarked for minorities in the 1980s.

Island Park had faced the prospect of $5.4 million in fines after a federal judge determined in 1995 that the village had violated the Fair Housing Act. Under the settlement proposal, the village would pay $21,294.86 in fines a month for 78 months starting June 1, 2017. It would provide an additional $300,000 to fund a fair housing office, with an administrator tasked with getting at least 17 village homes sold to and occupied by African-American families over four years.

In Farmingdale, the settlement requires the village to pay plaintiffs an undisclosed sum of money and, over the next decade, work with developers to replace the 54 units of affordable housing lost to the village when a Secatogue Avenue building was sold and turned into upscale apartments.

The trend here is clear.

Long Island communities can continue to throw millions of dollars into fights over fair and affordable housing. Or they can, like Farmingdale, deal with the twin realities that Long Island's demographics and housing needs have changed.

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