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Group files federal housing discrimination complaint against Nassau

Nassau County officials Tuesday rejected allegations in a complaint filed with the federal government that it violates fair-housing laws and reinforces segregated communities.

In its complaint, ERASE Racism, an advocacy group, claims the county's Office of Community Development has heavily awarded money to build subsidized family units in mostly black areas and for senior projects in mostly white communities, with few blacks.

The county perpetuates segregation because African-Americans are more likely to live in affordable family housing than in senior housing, the complaint claims.

"Nassau County is in compliance with all federal guidelines," Nassau Director of Housing and Community Development John Sarcone said Tuesday in a statement. "The county passes through federal dollars to fund projects that are requested by the towns and villages."

The Syosset group filed the complaint Monday with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It accuses the county of awarding money for projects in communities with restrictive zoning and housing laws that don't promote integration.

"African-Americans are still being denied housing choice and, consequently, equal access to the same opportunities that white residents of Nassau County enjoy," group president Elaine Gross said in a release.

According to the 2010 census, 11.1 percent of Nassau's 1.3 million residents were black. But many municipalities have disproportionate white or black populations, said the group, whose name is an acronym for Education, Research, Advocacy, Support to Eliminate Racism.

Gross said that when the county and consortium of villages, cities and towns signed onto the program, they agreed to work to undo historical patterns of segregation, but that hasn't happened.

Under individual agreements with the county, consortium members agree to comply with civil-rights obligations to receive the money.

Gross said the county has supervisory responsibilities, and is also bound by the same obligations.

The complaint said federal dollars have funded more than half of about 3,500 family units in communities with large black populations. In contrast, funding has paid for 62 percent of about 7,900 senior units in white communities.

The complaint alleges the county has "failed or refused to enforce the civil rights obligations" of consortium members, enabling them to engage in "discriminatory" zoning practices.

One consortium town, Oyster Bay, where African-Americans represent just 2.3 percent of the population, gives its residents preferences for affordable housing, the complaint says.

This month, the Justice Department sued Oyster Bay and Town Supervisor John Venditto alleging discrimination against African-Americans.

The complaint claims a program for first-time buyers and another aimed at seniors violated the Fair Housing Act because the preferences were given to town residents. Since the town is predominantly white, it should have given equal treatment to prospective applicants from the larger, more diverse metropolitan area, the federal complaint said.

In a statement, Venditto said it was "just plain wrong to suggest" the town wasn't welcoming.

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