Ralliers camped out in Garden City last Thursday to protest the village’s failure to act on court-ordered affordable housing initiatives in a timely manner, missing two yearly windows of federal funding in the process.
Lucas Sánchez, the Long Island Director for New York Communities for Change (NYCC), said the fight stemmed from a 2005 lawsuit, when the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) sued the Incorporated Village of Garden City for housing discrimination.
The long-fought court battle was led by NYCC after ACORN’s dissolution.
The advocates gathered at the corner of Washington Avenue and 11th Street, the site of the old Nassau County Social Services building, setting up tents to camp out in protest.
“This was the area where we wanted affordable housing to be built. The opposition we had from Garden City residents – that was what made it clear to us, then to the courts, that it was because of race that they didn’t want affordable housing here,” Sánchez said.
In 2014, the United States District Court of the Eastern District of New York decided against the village and did indeed determine discrimination had occurred in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Then, in 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down the village’s appeal.
“We find no clear error in the district court’s determination. The tenor of the discussion at public hearings and in the flyer circulated throughout the community shows that citizen opposition, though not overtly race-based, was directed at a potential influx of poor, minority residents,” the appeals court stated in its decision.
Sánchez said the village joined the Nassau County Urban Consortium, an entity through which the village could apply for federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for the project, but has missed the opportunity to apply in both 2016 and 2017. This, he said, signaled the village was not acting in “good faith” to make affordable housing a reality, as the courts had mandated.
Francis Madi, a 28-year-old Hempstead resident who attended the rally, immigrated from Venezuela when she was 11. She stressed that Long Islanders should aim to unite and not promote divisive, discriminatory policies.
“From the point of view of immigrants, having affordable housing is one more step in moving up the ladder in this country,” Madi said. “We all want to be able to provide for our families and grow, and housing is just part of that.”
A lifelong Long Island resident, Diane Jackson Goins, said she attended the first tent city back in 2005, when fight first began.
“The judge said they were wrong, and we won the case. We’ve been with it for this long,” Goins said. “Well, if we can’t live here, we’ll spend the night. We claimed this property because they wouldn’t give it to us, and that’s where tent city came from.”
Garden City officials did not return calls for comment by Wednesday’s deadline.