The Town of Huntington finally has resolved a housing-discrimination lawsuit whose roots stretch back more than a decade.
Now Huntington must follow through. The town has been down this road before, and come up short.
In a settlement with the NAACP, Huntington agreed to allow construction of 117 units of affordable housing on Ruland Road in Melville. That's a positive development for a town that has earned its reputation for hostility to affordable housing.
But Huntington is not alone in this regard. The need for affordable housing on Long Island is undeniable. So is the region's historic resistance to that need. It's unfortunate the Ruland Road dispute took 12 years to resolve, and it's no coincidence the agreement came the day before the trial on the lawsuit was to begin. But coupled with recent resolutions of other local cases, it imparts a clear lesson: It's better to manage the process than resist it.
The Village of Farmingdale settled an 8-year-old housing discrimination lawsuit rather than continuing to appeal, and Island Park reached a settlement ending a two-decade dispute over its violation of fair housing laws. Garden City, alas, has decided to appeal a federal court ruling that village officials in 2004 discriminated against minorities by enacting new zoning to block affordable housing.
Huntington's 12-year dispute boiled down to this: The town wanted ownership units; the plaintiffs preferred rentals. The solution brokered by Supervisor Frank P. Petrone was to make Ruland Road a limited equity cooperative. The model calls for purchasers who meet income requirements to make a modest initial buy-in for a share in the co-op, then slowly build equity via a small portion of each monthly maintenance payment.
Such arrangements have existed in New York City for years, and have many advantages. They give residents a stake in the community and reduce transience, while making some form of ownership affordable to people who otherwise would rent. And the equity owners get back when they leave can serve as a bridge to home ownership. That's how it worked for Petrone, who lived in such a cooperative years ago in the Bronx. Another plus: The settlement guarantees the complex will remain affordable into perpetuity; unfortunately, many such co-ops revert to market rates after a specified period.
Huntington has a checkered history with this type of housing. Matinecock Court -- an affordable housing complex with its own tortured 35-year history since being proposed for East Northport -- seemed headed toward a successful resolution back in 1996. The deal, brokered by then-Rep. Gary Ackerman, called for a 75-25 split between limited equity ownership units and rentals. A civic group objected to the limited equity part, the town pulled its support, and the compromise died.
Petrone, who was supervisor then, says civic groups will not be able to derail the Melville settlement, noting, "It's a different time and a different place right now." Financing and tax credits are not yet finalized but other steps that await -- such as site plan approval by the planning board -- do seem to be formalities.
If Ruland Road is built as envisioned, it could serve as a model for getting affordable housing built in other municipalities. That could lead to a welcome and wonderfully ironic appellation for the town: Huntington, affordable housing pioneer.