A celebration is underway in Farmingdale after a lawsuit led to new affordable housing. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

The nine tenants faced daunting odds: They needed to convince a federal judge that their evictions were part of a systematic effort by Farmingdale to drive them and other Hispanic immigrants out of town.

And yet, when the yearslong court battle against the village finally ended, the tenants had achieved the improbable. As part of a settlement, the village agreed to build affordable housing units to replace what was lost when the owner of a building on Secatogue Avenue sold it to a developer of upscale apartments and evicted the residents.

Ten years after that landmark decision, a $35 million workforce affordable housing development will open in June in Farmingdale — a village whose leaders back then were accused of trying to push out an expanding population of immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Today, some housing and community activists consider Farmingdale an example of how a grassroots effort on a shoestring budget can lead to affordable housing and ethnic diversity in a community where both had been largely missing.


  • A $35 million affordable housing development in Farmingdale, with the village's growing Hispanic immigrant population in mind, opens in June.
  • The 71-unit development will be the culmination of years of court wrangling, pitting evicted tenants against Farmingdale.
  • The story of the “Secatogue Nine” is chronicled in a five-part podcast that Hofstra University is launching Tuesday.

“All in all, this was a real success,” said Stefan Krieger, a law professor at Hofstra University who, along with his students, represented the tenants in the Farmingdale court battle.

“If there is an answer to the polarization in this country,” Krieger said, “you look at what happened in Farmingdale.”

He and the tenants soon will get a chance to celebrate. The saga, dating to the early 2000s, is set to culminate with the opening of the 71-unit workforce affordable housing development, Sterling Green. It will be one of the largest such projects in Nassau County, said Peter Florey of D&F Development Group LLC, the Levittown company that has been overseeing the project on Route 109.

Farmingdale firefighters at the scene of a 2004 fire at...

Farmingdale firefighters at the scene of a 2004 fire at 150 Secatogue Ave. Credit: Philip LoNigro

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand, who took office after the lawsuit was filed, said he expects at least 1,000 applicants for apartments in the three-story Sterling Green project, based partly on past experience with other projects offering affordable units. Officials plan to hold a lottery in April to assign the units.

Rent below marketplace

Monthly rent will run from $1,294 for a one-bedroom to $1,905 for a three-bedroom. Applicants must have combined annual salaries between $36,000 and $95,000, depending on the size of the household. Affordable workforce housing is designed for people who work but whose salaries are not enough to pay marketplace rents.

Krieger, an expert on housing law, said the lawsuit victory was highly unusual because tenants typically tire of the long fight and give up. Also, the village had far more financial resources, with its insurance companies footing its legal bills.

The tenants depended on Hofstra law school's housing clinic and about 100 students who over the years rotated in and out of the case. They employed a “novel” legal strategy, Krieger said. They accused the village of “outsourcing” to private companies the gentrification of “Little Latin America,” a part of Farmingdale named for its substantial Hispanic immigrant population.

The conditions inside the apartment building at 150 Secatogue Ave. were dangerous...

The conditions inside the apartment building at 150 Secatogue Ave. were dangerous to the life, health and safety of the tenants, according to a lawsuit filed in 2006. Credit: David L. Pokress, Michael E. Ach

“From the start, I knew it was an uphill battle,” Krieger said. “But I thought with the perseverance of the clients and the creative energy of the students, we had a shot.”

Ekstrand said the saga has been going on for so long that it started three mayors before him. But he said it shows that today the village is an accepting community. “Farmingdale is not a place where you get bigotry,” he said.

Praise for village

Housing activists, many of whom were critical of Farmingdale, are now heaping praise on the village's affordable housing efforts in response to the settlement. 

“They’ve really been stellar in tackling this,” said Sharon Mullon, of the Long Island Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes affordable housing. “It’s been a wonderful partnership of people.”

Still, some Latino immigrants in Farmingdale told Newsday they were unaware of the project — or how to apply, or whether they would qualify. And others said much of the gentrification did, in fact, happen.

Hofstra law professor Stefan Krieger, right, in 2011 with Brian Fredericks,...

Hofstra law professor Stefan Krieger, right, in 2011 with Brian Fredericks, one of nine tenants who sued Farmingdale Village, and Paola Moncion, a Hofstra law student involved in the case. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

To mark the 10-year anniversary of the lawsuit’s settlement, Hofstra has produced a five-part podcast chronicling the legal fight. It tells the story of the “Secatogue Nine” — their journeys from Central America and Mexico to Long Island, the discrimination they faced here, and the efforts of village officials to target Little Latin America with its redevelopment plans.

It also examines the long court battle — and what it means for America’s changing suburbs. Hofstra is launching its podcast with an event Tuesday that will include Krieger, some of the tenants, and Hofstra academics.

Lawrence Levy, the head of Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies who helped produce the podcast, said the settlement coincided with a rebirth of Farmingdale, whose downtown has blossomed with new restaurants and other businesses.

“Farmingdale is one of those downtowns now that people talk about, like Patchogue, where all kinds of people can live throughout the village," he said.

Changing Farmingdale

A centrally located Long Island suburb with historically a predominantly white population, Farmingdale has over the years become a regional hot spot for immigrants, some of them day laborers, many waiting for work on street corners. Hispanics went from about 3.6% to 12.6% of Farmingdale's population between 1980 and 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. By 2022, it was 14.1%.

The increase was not welcomed by everyone. Some were angered by immigrants who gathered on the corners, overcrowded houses, worked off the books and were not in the country legally. The immigrants contended they were coming here to make a better life for their families.

Hostility to the day laborers became so intense in Farmingdale that after activists opened an outdoor hiring site for them in 2002, someone left a spent .50-caliber anti-aircraft shell there, terrifying the workers. Someone also carved a depiction of a gun onto a wood picnic table. The site off Route 110 closed within a month.

The hostility was felt across Long Island, which as more Latinos arrived was convulsed by a series of notorious hate crimes, including the 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.

With the Latino population growth in Farmingdale, 150 Secatogue Ave., a 54-unit apartment building, became the heart of the village's Hispanic immigrant community, giving rise to the neighborhood's nickname, Little Latin America.

The nickname may have been catchy, but the living conditions were far from pleasant. Tenants complained the complex was a disaster.

From the start, I knew it was an uphill battle. But I thought with the perseverance of the clients and the creative energy of the students, we had a shot.

Stefan Krieger, law professor at Hofstra University's School of Law

They reported to officials and activists that it was infested with rats, cockroaches and mold, and was marred by leaks, collapsing ceilings and sporadic heat. They accused Farmingdale officials of refusing to force the landlord to make needed repairs — all part of, tenants and their supporters alleged, a village gentrification plan to eliminate Little Latin America and make way for luxury housing.

They even alleged officials were fast-tracking the sale of the building to a high-end developer to hasten their exits.

Village denied allegations

Village officials at the time denied the allegations, saying they did all they could to force the landlord to make repairs on the building but that the property's owners had a legal right to sell and renovate it. 

To underscore the tenants' complaints, a 2004 fire at the building forced their evacuation. Fed up, the next day, a group of them — assisted by community activists — went to Krieger’s office for help.

The professor and his law students took on the case, pro bono. With their assistance, nine of the tenants filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the village. The case dragged on for eight years, with negotiations, late-night meetings among the tenants and court hearings.

Farmingdale is one of those downtowns now that people talk about, like Patchogue, where all kinds of people can live.

Lawrence Levy, head of Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies

Finally, in 2014, shortly before the case was set to go to trial, Farmingdale settled.

The village agreed to recruit developers to build 54 units of affordable housing and to pay the nine plaintiffs an undisclosed sum for damages. The tenants had been seeking $1.5 million. The village requested a nondisclosure agreement, and the tenants consented.

More units set aside

In the years since the lawsuit was settled, the village has set aside affordable housing units in some new developments. The upscale complex Cornerstone, for instance, on Elizabeth Street near the Long Island Rail Road station, includes two.

Under the settlement, the nine plaintiffs were given priority for new affordable units. One, Ana Maria Mora Gomez, in 2016 moved into a sparkling one-bedroom apartment at Cornerstone. She is still deciding if she will move to Sterling Green.

The battle over 150 Secatogue Ave. involved a lot of “trauma, but also achievements,” Mora Gomez, 60, a convenience store worker originally from Mexico, said in Spanish.

Some of the same situations that existed in Farmingdale decades ago when she moved there persist: Day laborers continue to congregate on streets such as Conklin Avenue. Latino immigrants don't typically frequent the trendy new restaurants in town, but rather work in them. They patronize a few bodegas that remain on Conklin Avenue, and tend to live nearby.

In some ways, Farmingdale achieved what previous administrations wanted: Much of Little Latin America near the Long Island Rail Road station has been gentrified, including 150 Secatogue Ave. It was renovated and turned into upscale apartments in a complex now called Fairfield Courtyard at Farmingdale. Rents go from about $2,400 for a studio to $3,400 for a two-bedroom, according to its website.

Casa Comunal, a storefront nonprofit on South Front Street that once helped migrants with clothes, food and English lessons, has been replaced, too, by an even more expensive “ultra luxury” apartment building. It boasts a dark-wood common room with pool tables and leather sofas. Rents range up to $4,395 for a two-bedroom.

Fewer day laborers

At 7 one morning last week, Jose Hernandez, 56, was the first day laborer waiting for work outside a gas station next to 150 Secatogue Ave.

An immigrant from El Salvador, he said far fewer men show up at the corner than years ago, and that work in the winter is scarce. He makes about $150 a day when he can land a job. He rents a basement room in a house nearby for $800 a month — and said that's about all he can afford. 

While generally there aren't close relations between the immigrants and white residents, he said, at least the divisiveness of the past has receded.

“Things are very different,” he said in Spanish. “They treat you better. Before, there was a lot of discrimination.”

Inside the aging gas station, a tiny Latino restaurant where the workers buy Salvadoran cornbread “pupusas” and other fare is a stark contrast to the sleek Asian fusion restaurant and acupuncture business down the street. A black table facing the wall has peeling paint. Two handwritten notes taped to a pillar say “Dios Te Bendiga” and “God Bless You.”

Hernandez and a dozen other Latino immigrants interviewed in Farmingdale by Newsday said they knew little about the new Sterling Green project, and were worried that their status as undocumented immigrants might make them ineligible.

Florey said that while officials won't check applicants' immigration status, they will need a Social Security number or tax identification number and be required to show their source of income. Cash off-the-books work does not qualify as income.

Cristina Ruiz Diaz, a local activist who was deeply involved in the tenants’ struggle, said that despite the imperfections of the settlement, such as the loss of much of Little Latin America to gentrification, she saw the overall outcome as a “win” for the Latino community. 

One of the biggest wins was that a daughter of one tenant who witnessed the struggle as a girl by attending tenants' strategy meetings, for instance, went on to become a lawyer herself, Ruiz Diaz said. She was inspired by the work of Krieger and his law students.

“People are happy after what they went through,” Ruiz Diaz said, referring to the plaintiffs, and for the most part “they’re still in the neighborhood.”

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