The Village of Great Neck Plaza has just settled a federal lawsuit that commenced last year by two housing organizations. The lawsuit challenged certain provisions in the Village Code enacted several years ago which provided zoning incentives to encourage the development of on-site affordable workforce housing units within the village. Under the village’s program, persons who met specified criteria were eligible to lease these affordable housing units. The purpose of this program was to help retain the community volunteer firefighters, village employees, combat veterans and seniors on fixed incomes and young people who grew up here in Great Neck and in Nassau County, who have been documented in the LI Index to be the fastest growing segment of residents who are moving off of Long Island because they can no longer afford to live here.
The village enacted its program in 2005, years before the State of New York first enacted a statute requiring the construction of affordable housing units in certain developments on Long Island. The village’s affordable workforce housing program gave a 20 percent zoning bonus in certain areas of the village to developers and mandated that those developers set aside some of the apartment units in their buildings for lease to households with 50 to 100 percent of federal adjusted median income. The rent for these units could exceed no more than 30 percent of the household income. The village’s affordable housing program had income-eligibility standards based on HUD criteria for Nassau County and also contained criteria restricting eligibility for the units to certain designated categories of people, such as volunteer firefighters, veterans, village employees and seniors and young people who had grown up or lived for specified time periods in Great Neck or Nassau County. These apartments were made available on a lottery basis, first to village residents and then, depending on availability, to residents of the Great Neck peninsula and the County of Nassau.
In 2014, two housing groups challenged the village program contending that the age and residency requirements of the village’s program violated the federal Fair Housing Act and other statutes aimed at preventing housing discrimination. Regarding this issue, the U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a decision in June 2015 stating that the Fair Housing Act prohibited conduct which had a discriminatory impact, even if there was no discriminatory intent. The village never intended to, and did not intentionally, discriminate against anyone. However, given the current status of the controlling federal law, the village undertook settling this lawsuit amicably rather than engage in an expensive prolonged litigation that could last several years.
The village’s effort at settlement culminated successfully. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the village will eliminate the challenged provisions of the village incentive program and will also take certain measures to encourage the future development of additional workforce affordable housing units to replace those units which the plaintiffs claimed were improperly marketed and leased in the past pursuant to the challenged provisions. Plaintiffs will recover a monetary sum to pay for their attorneys’ fees, litigation costs and claimed damages, but virtually all of this will be covered by the village’s insurance and will not be paid at the expense of the village’s taxpayers.
Regarding the settlement agreement, Mayor Jean Celender stated, “Great Neck Plaza has always been an open inclusive community offering a wide range of rental and co-op apartments, condominium units and private homes. The village has strongly advocated for additional affordable workforce housing on Long Island. That’s why the village addressed this issue years before the state and enacted its own village program. The modifications of the Village Code that will now result from this settlement will enable the village program to encourage the development of even more affordable workforce housing units within the village, which is a positive and good result.”
—Submitted by the Village of Great Neck Plaza