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Farmingdale: Affordable housing, payments in lawsuit's settlement

Ana Maria Mora Gomez poses at the site

Ana Maria Mora Gomez poses at the site where she once lived in an apartment building that housed mainly Latino residents in Farmingdale. Gomez is one of nine plaintiffs who settled a law suit against the Town that claimed their building was sold in an effort to drive Latinos out of the community. (Jan. 13, 2014) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A long-running federal anti-discrimination lawsuit filed by nine Latino residents against the Village of Farmingdale ended Monday when the village agreed to create 54 units of affordable housing and pay the plaintiffs an undisclosed amount, officials said.

Housing activists called the settlement a victory that could help curb housing discrimination throughout the region. Village officials said it marked a new start in what has been a tumultuous history with Latino residents.

The settlement in the 8-year-old lawsuit calls for the village to recruit developers over the next decade to replace 54 units of affordable housing that were lost after a building in the heart of the "Little Latin America" neighborhood was sold in 2006 and turned into upscale apartments.

Most of the residents in the building at 150 Secatogue Ave. were Latinos, who were evicted. Nine became plaintiffs in the lawsuit, alleging the village had failed to force the former owner to repair the building and then fast-tracked its sale to Commack-based Fairfield Properties. The plaintiffs asserted it was part of a systematic effort to drive Latinos out of the community.

The village denied the allegations, saying it did all it could to force repairs on the building and that the owners of the private property had a right to sell and renovate it.

Under the settlement, the nine plaintiffs will get preference in moving into the new units when they open, said Stefan Krieger, a law professor at Hofstra University School of Law's housing clinic, who represented the group.

One plaintiff, Juan Antonio Bustillo, 42, a construction worker from Honduras, who still lives in Farmingdale, said in Spanish, "I feel happy with what has been achieved. We are part of this community, we work here, we pay taxes, we use services. We have to fight for our rights."

The case was scheduled to begin with jury selection Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. The plaintiffs were seeking about $1.5 million in damages. Krieger and village officials would not disclose the amount being paid to the plaintiffs.

"Our clients applaud the village's efforts to become a leader on Long Island in promoting inclusive housing policies," Krieger said. "We look forward to working closely with the village in implementing these policies to address the needs of its diverse community."

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said he was pleased. "We hope to become a model for housing development on Long Island and the nation, and we commend Hofstra University in their determined efforts to represent people who otherwise might not have had a voice," he said.

Krieger said he hopes the agreement will lead to Farmingdale providing more housing, beyond the number of units included in the settlement. The agreement also calls for the Long Island Housing Partnership, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit that promotes affordable housing, to serve as a consultant to the village on all housing matters.

Some housing discrimination experts said the settlement may help deter housing bias on the Island and elsewhere.

Diane L. Houk, an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School and formerly a U.S. Justice Department attorney in the civil rights and housing division, said the settlement, along with another recent anti-discrimination housing case in Garden City, "should be sending a very strong message" to communities to "welcome people in a nondiscriminatory way to become their neighbors."

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