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Justice Department alleges housing discrimination in Oyster Bay

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Federal prosecutors are suing the Town of Oyster Bay on Long Island claiming the municipality is discriminating against African-Americans through housing programs because preference is given to residents of the town, who are predominately white, the US Attorney’s office said April 10.

The suit – filed Thursday in Brooklyn federal court – alleges the town violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which “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 for Civil Rights Jocelyn Samuels.

The two programs in question encourage developers to build below-market rate housing to first time homeowners and senior citizens. In exchange, developers who build housing under the programs receive zoning variances allowing them to build housing more densely than under current zoning restrictions. Both programs, federal authorities say, require the developers to award the constructed housing units to residents of the town or their children.

The Justice Department alleges 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, which are significantly more diverse.”

In a news release, the agency said: “For example, African Americans constituted less than 1% of families living in the Town of Oyster Bay who were income eligible and otherwise qualified to purchase housing under [one] program. Conversely, whites made up as much as 90% of the pool of eligible families.”

“Housing programs designed to help young families and senior citizens purchase homes should be available to people of all races, including African Americans,” said Loretta Lynch, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “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.”

The lawsuit also names Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and a non-profit organization, which is responsible for administering one of the programs.

That organization, officials said, has settled with the government and agreed to analyze residency preferences “so that they do not violate fair housing laws.” The group will also provide educational programs about the fair housing laws.

As part of the lawsuit, federal officials are seeking civil penalties and a policy change.

A spokeswoman for the Town of Oyster Bay did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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