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Mayor: 'Welcome back' to Farmingdale's displaced Latinos

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand is joined by some

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand is joined by some of the plaintiffs in the 8 year-old federal discrimination lawsuit against the village to celebrate the historic settlement. The settlement could help curb housing discrimination throughout the region. (Jan. 16, 2014) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Farmingdale's mayor had a "Welcome back" and a handshake Thursday for nine Latino residents after settlement of a federal discrimination lawsuit they brought eight years ago, saying the village's pledge to build affordable housing is a solid commitment.

"It's not just a hollow promise," Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said, referring to the agreement to construct at least 54 units of affordable housing. "We will do this."

The nine plaintiffs were evicted in 2006 from a building at 150 Secatogue Ave., in the heart of the "Little Latin America" neighborhood.

"This is a historic day in the community," Juan Antonio Bustillo, 42, a construction worker from Honduras who was among the plaintiffs, said in Spanish. "We in this community feel happy, we are a part of it." Bustillo continues to live in Farmingdale.

The settlement was announced Monday by village officials and Hofstra University Law School's housing clinic, which represented the residents. The plaintiffs, who had sought about $1.5 million in damages, also will receive an undisclosed amount of money.

The agreement calls for the village to recruit developers over the next decade to replace 54 units of affordable housing that were lost after the Secatogue Avenue building was sold and turned into upscale apartments.

Most of the residents were Latinos. The nine who sued alleged that 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 the repairs and that the owners of the property had a right to sell and renovate it.

Hofstra Law School professor Stefan Krieger, who led the case for the plaintiffs, said the agreement will be enforced by U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, where the case had been scheduled to begin this week.

The plaintiffs will receive preference in obtaining some of the new apartments, he said.

Ekstrand said most Farmingdale residents' reaction to the agreement was positive. Their biggest concern was "are my taxes going up because of this? And they're not," he said, because payments to the plaintiffs will be made by the village's insurance company.

"We were not happy that the plaintiffs could not return to their homes after being displaced by the Fairfield redevelopment," the mayor said. "We are thrilled that you want to come back and be a productive part of the village even after all these years."

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