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Discrimination Dispute Resolved

“We’re going to continue to fight,” were the words Hofstra Law Professor Stefan Krieger used last October, when he told The Farmingdale Observer about the eight-year-old legal battle between nine Hispanic residents and the Village of Farmingdale, over the redevelopment of 150 Secatogue Avenue.

Once regarded as the epicenter of the Latino-American community in Farmingdale, 150 Secatogue Ave. was home to a 54-unit apartment complex, before being bought by developers with Fairfield Properties, in 2006, for the construction of upscale apartments on the site. While the location was private property, at the time, the plaintiffs had claimed the village and property owners had failed to keep the building up to code, giving the village authority to sell the property and evict tenants, citing health violations for their reasoning to close off the property.

Now, nearly ten years since the nine Latino residents were displaced from their homes, both parties have announced that they have settled the housing dispute out-of-court.

“It’s wonderful we have reached an agreement with the community we love,” said one of the plaintiffs, Juan Antonio Bustillo, 42. “I hope that in the future all the people in Farmingdale can continue to work together.”

On Jan. 13—the same day that both parties were due to appear before a magistrate of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn—a settlement was struck that lays out the framework for affordable housing development in Farmingdale. As part of the agreement, the village will promote the replacement of the 54-housing units eliminated by the redevelopment project. In addition, the Long Island Housing Partnership—a Hauppauge-based nonprofit organization promoting the development of affordable housing—will be engaged as the village consultant on all housing and related matters.

“We’re glad this had a positive resolution,” said Peter J. Elkowitz, Jr., president of the Long Island Housing Partnership. “Both parties have put their trust in us and count on our expertise to move forward.”

Because the terms of the agreement have not been finalized, as of press time, village officials said they’re putting  their best effort into building workforce housing for the plaintiffs and other residents. However, could not give a timeline for when the affordable units will be made available.

“It’s not just a hollow promise,” said Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand. “We give a priority to workforce housing.”

According to Ekstrand, as part of the settlement, the village will send updates to the Hofstra Law Clinic on its progress with the development of the affordable housing units. The new units will not all be built in one location, but dispersed throughout the village. Once construction of the affordable units is complete, the village will give the nine displaced residents the first pick.

“We’re thrilled you want to come back and be a productive part of this village,” Ekstrand added.

Apart from the construction, the nine plaintiffs were also awarded with an undisclosed amount of money for damages through the village’s insurance provider.

During a press conference, on Jan. 16, Krieger told reporters he felt much the same as his client Mr. Alvarez did at the village fair each year. According to Krieger, while working on the case, Alvarez would often think back to the annual Columbus Day celebration on Main Street and the fond memories he made interacting with different people and trying a variety of different foods. “Our clients applaud the Village’s efforts to become a leader on Long Island in promoting inclusive housing policies,” Krieger said. “We look forward to working closely with the village in implementing these policies to address the needs of its diverse community.”

Presently, Farmingdale village has a policy in place that requires a 10 percent affordable housing component for any future development over 5 units. In addition, the village will look to use its abilities to ‘fast-track’ building permits for the development of affordable units.

“We hope to become a model for housing development on Long Island and the nation and we commend Hofstra University in their determined efforts to represent people who otherwise might not have had a voice,” Ekstrand said.