Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch for the Eastern District of New York announced today that the United States has filed a complaint against the Town of Oyster Bay in Long Island, N.Y., for violating the Fair Housing Act. The complaint alleges that two housing programs designed to develop below-market rate housing for first time homeowners and senior citizens discriminate against African-Americans because the programs give preference to residents of the town, which is predominantly white.
“The Fair Housing Act protects the right of all individuals, regardless of their race, to choose where to live and to have equal access to affordable housing,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuels. “Today’s lawsuit is a reminder that if municipalities wish to adopt residency preferences such as those imposed by the defendants, they must do so in a way that does not discriminate against people based on race.”
“Housing programs designed to help young families and senior citizens purchase homes should be available to people of all races, including African-Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch. “To the extent residency preferences prevent families and senior citizens from purchasing homes because of race, ethnicity or color, the preferences violate federal law and cannot be tolerated.”
At issue are two town zoning incentive programs. The Next Generation housing program encourages developers to build below-market rate housing for first time homebuyers, generally young families. The Golden Age housing program offers similar incentives for the construction of below-market rate housing for senior citizens. Developers who build housing under the programs receive zoning variances which allow them to build housing more densely than current zoning restrictions permit in exchange for lower sale prices for certain units. Both programs require developers to award units constructed under the programs to residents and children of residents of the town.
According to the complaint, the residency preferences discriminate against African-Americans because very few African-Americans reside in the town and even fewer are eligible for the program, as compared to the population of African-Americans in surrounding communities that are significantly more diverse. African-Americans constituted less than one percent of families living in the Town of Oyster Bay who were income eligible and otherwise qualified to purchase housing under the Next Generation program. Conversely, whites made up as much as 90 percent of the pool of eligible families. The eligible population of Nassau County, N.Y., and Suffolk County, N.Y., residents was approximately 10 percent African-American and between 70 percent and 75 percent white and the eligible population in the New York City metropolitan area was approximately 20.5 percent African-American and approximately 48 percent white.
Also named as defendants are Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, in his official capacity, and Long Island Housing Partnership (LIHP), the not-for-profit organization which is responsible for administering the Next Generation housing program, which includes implementing the residency preferences for the town.
The complaint was filed with an accompanying settlement between the Department and LIHP. LIHP has agreed to injunctive relief which requires LIHP to ensure that residency preferences it administers are analyzed so that they do not violate fair housing laws. LIHP will also provide education and training to localities, banks and individuals on Long Island regarding the requirements of fair housing laws.