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Housing advocates file discrimination suit against Great Neck Plaza and Nassau IDA

The Maestro, a 94-unit rental complex with 19

The Maestro, a 94-unit rental complex with 19 affordable housing units, at 255 Great Neck Rd. in Great Neck Plaza on May 30, 2014. Credit: Jeremy Bales

Two fair-housing groups have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the Village of Great Neck Plaza and the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency violated fair housing laws.

The groups say eligibility criteria for affordable apartments at Maestro, a rental complex with more than 90 units on Great Neck Road, favored long-term residents in a predominantly white village and set up a tier system that all but ruled out African-American residents.

Attorneys for Long Island Housing Services Inc. and Fair Housing Justice Center wrote in court papers filed Thursday that the village has discriminatory eligibility requirements for affordable apartments in the building, for which the IDA granted 30 years worth of tax relief in 2011.

Joseph J. Kearney, executive director of the IDA, declined to comment.

Mayor Jean Celender said discrimination did not occur.

The village's code categorizes eligible residents in three ways.

The first applicants considered must be active in one of two fire companies for two consecutive years; a combat veteran and village resident; a village employee for five consecutive years; younger than 40 with a primary village residence at least 10 of the past 15 years; or 65 or older with a primary residence in the village at least 15 of the last 20 years before applying.

The second group considered would come from the Great Neck peninsula and face the same criteria. Under the third tier, most of the criteria would be applied to all of Nassau County.

Celender said the village had trouble filling units and had contacted various South Shore communities trying to fill the spots.

"We were trying to set something here that was meeting the needs of the community, to have firefighters and employees close by in emergencies," and to serve young professionals and senior citizens looking to move to smaller locations.

But housing advocates said the system used by the village of 6,700 did not favor a racially mixed pool.

The groups said village rules excluded many Nassau County residents between ages 40 to 65 with a "tiered durational residency preference system" that favored long-term residents of the village and the peninsula.

In April, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the Town of Oyster Bay, saying the town discriminated against blacks in two affordable housing programs, one for seniors and another aimed at first-time buyers. Annette Dennis, president of the Nassau County Chapter of the National Action Network, noted similarities to Oyster Bay.

"When you do the math you are knocking out African-Americans and the number of Hispanics," she said. "In a way, that's exactly how you can use the law to keep African-Americans out of a particular development or a complex. The number of African-Americans [in Nassau County] is disproportionate to the rest of the population in Great Neck."

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