Former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi testified Tuesday in a trial accusing Garden City officials of racial discrimination in a housing development project that Suozzi planned to put luxury apartments, not affordable housing, on the county-owned site.
Suozzi testified in U.S. District Court in Central Islip that when he took office in 2002 he was seeking ways to solve the county's financial crisis. He focused on the county's social services building in Garden City and sought rezoning from the village so that the property could be sold for luxury apartments. Suozzi said he had hoped the 25-acre property would net $30 million but a request for bids resulted in a $56 million offer.
Garden City officials initially contemplated rezoning the land for multifamily use, which would have meant as many as 311 apartments. But public outcry over the possibility of affordable housing being included in the plan led the village to change the zoning to a mix of single-family homes, town houses and a small number of multifamily units. In 2005, the now-defunct group ACORN filed a lawsuit accusing the village of violating the Fair Housing Act and Civil Rights Act. New York Communities for Change and MHANY Management Inc. have taken over the suit. Nothing was ever built.
When asked by the plaintiffs' attorney about resident comments at a public meeting on the zoning, Suozzi said there were "comments from the crowd that they were objecting to affordable housing." He added: "But I knew that walking into the room that the residents, the trustees, most people would be opposed to affordable housing. But I was not proposing affordable housing, I was proposing luxury housing." Suozzi added that building affordable housing at the site "wouldn't have made economic sense."
Asked whether racism was a motivating factor, Suozzi responded, "My life experience in public life is that racism is a reality on Long Island and in the United States and it has an impact on issues such as affordable housing."
Plaintiffs' attorney Fred Brewington said outside court Suozzi's testimony showed how "affordable housing is something that is shunned in Nassau County." Brewington also said Suozzi's comments on racism showed that Garden City "like a lot of Long Island, didn't want them in their back yard." He said Suozzi's comments on not wanting affordable housing at the site didn't have "any real relevance" to the case.
Jennifer McLaughlin, attorney for Cullen and Dykman, the firm representing the village, said Suozzi's testimony reaffirmed it was "never an affordable housing proposal" and that he wanted to "maximize revenues."