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New home for Latino immigrant marks new day in Farmingdale

Ana Maria Mora Gomez gets emotional as she

Ana Maria Mora Gomez gets emotional as she shows her new apartment in Farmingdale on Tuesday Aug. 2, 2016. She is holding gifts presented by Hofstra University law professor Stefan Krieger. Mora, 53, was one of nine original plaintiffs in a federal housing discrimination lawsuit and is the first plaintiff to move in to affordable housing that resulted from the case's settlement. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Ana Maria Mora Gomez moved into a new apartment for low-income people in Farmingdale on Tuesday, marking a new chapter for Latinos and the village after settlement of a years-long federal housing discrimination case.

Mora, an immigrant from Mexico who works in a convenience store and a bagel shop, now will call home a sparkling one-bedroom apartment on Elizabeth Street — part of the recently opened, upscale Cornerstone complex.

It is a stark contrast from her former residence around the corner on Secatogue Avenue in what was called the village’s “Little Latin America.” That apartment, she said, was infested with cockroaches and rats.

“I feel grateful to God that he is giving me this place to live,” Mora, 53, said in Spanish. “It caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect this.”

She will pay $918 a month for an apartment that rents for $2,645 elsewhere in the 42-unit building.

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand heralded the move-in as symbolic of a new day in the village.

“We think it is terrific,” he said. “It shows things actually work. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Mora’s new home is the result of a settlement announced in 2014 by the village and nine plaintiffs — all Latinos who worked as day laborers, housekeepers or factory workers and who used to live in the building on Secatogue Avenue.

In 2006, Hofstra University School of Law’s housing clinic filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the village, alleging it was part of a systematic effort to drive Latinos out of the community.

On Tuesday, Mora cried inside the new apartment as Stefan Krieger, the Hofstra professor who spearheaded the case from the start, presented her with housewarming gifts.

They were the same type of items that the character George Bailey and his wife gave to families moving into new homes in the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” — Krieger’s favorite: a loaf of bread, a bottle of salt and a bottle of wine.

“Thank you for your support,” Mora said to Krieger as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Without your help and the man upstairs we never would have” obtained the apartment.

The lawsuit alleged that the village failed to force the owner of the Secatogue building to make repairs, allowed the residents to be evicted, and then fast-tracked the building’s sale to a development company that turned it into upscale apartments.

The village denied the accusations, said it did what it could to force the repairs, and contended Farmingdale is welcoming to all people.

The settlement, announced in January 2014, required the village to create 54 units of affordable housing — the same number of apartments in the Secatogue building — and to pay the plaintiffs an undisclosed amount, said Krieger, who heads the housing clinic at the university’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law.

“This is great news,” he said. “I am excited that the work of the plaintiffs in this case has paid off not only with a victory in court, but now with actual affordable housing for low-income people and for Latinos in Farmingdale.”

Other projects in the pipeline will include affordable apartments, Ekstrand said.

A lottery was conducted by the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership to determine who would receive the apartment. Under the settlement, the nine plaintiffs got first priority, followed by other former residents of the Secatogue building who did not take part in the lawsuit, followed by any other low-income person.

Mora was the only plaintiff who applied, Krieger said. The other plaintiffs need two-bedroom apartments.

She will live in the apartment with her 21-year-old daughter and her 2-year-old granddaughter.

“Farmingdale welcomes them back with open arms,” Ekstrand said of the Latino residents.

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