After 14 years of litigation that included a year of settlement negotiations, Nassau County has agreed to implement a far-reaching affordable housing plan aimed at ending decades of alleged residential segregation between its white communities and communities of color.
The federal lawsuit, launched in 2005 by two progressive organizations represented in part by Hogan Lovells, shifted in recent years toward the goal of settlement after Laura Curran, a newly installed Nassau County executive, looked to alter county housing policy, which the previous administration had resisted, according to a news release issued Friday by plaintiffs and their attorneys.
The suit itself had claimed that Nassau County has long perpetuated residential segregation by steering family-occupancy affordable housing into communities of color, many with struggling school systems, and away from white communities, in violation the federal Fair Housing Act, the plaintiffs and their lawyers said in the statement.
Now, the plaintiffs and attorneys hope that the multipronged settlement they’ve finally achieved will be used as a model by communities that are trying to attack housing segregation.
“Cities and counties across the country should look to the major policy changes and significant investments that Nassau County is making as a model for dismantling state-sponsored residential segregation and meeting critical affordable housing needs,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in the statement, which was issued during a Friday news conference held on Long Island announcing the settlement.
“This landmark settlement is an important step forward in ensuring equal access to housing opportunity for African-American and Latino families in Nassau County,” Clarke also said. She added that “our work in Nassau County is a reminder that the promise of fair housing remains unfulfilled for many communities of color.”
The lawyers’ committee, along with Hogan Lovells and the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, represented two plaintiff organizations—New York Communities for Change and MHANY Management, a nonprofit affordable housing developer—which have been plaintiffs in the suit for years. The lawyers and firms involved worked the case pro bono, although under the settlement agreement $400,000 in fees will be collected and split among them.
Stan Brown, a Hogan Lovells senior counsel, said Friday that he has led the NYCC and MHANY litigation team and that “we are gratified that the Curran administration decided to work with us to achieve this settlement, which will benefit all citizens of the county.”
Added Brown, “We applaud the leadership of Laura Curran and her team on this issue. Nevertheless, we hope and expect that the county understands that this settlement constitutes only the beginning in expanding desperately needed housing opportunity in the county.”
Curran, who also spoke via the plaintiffs and their lawyers’ news release, said that “this settlement supports my Administration’s ongoing efforts to develop and promote mixed-income housing opportunities.”
“We are committed to working alongside our non-profit and community advocate partners in this regard,” she said.
The settlement itself, negotiated over the last year, ensures that Nassau County will prepare and implement an “action-oriented plan” based on mixed-income affordable housing for families. The housing is to be dispersed throughout the county, not only in communities of color, the joint statement said.
“So-called ‘high opportunity’ communities with low poverty rates, good schools, job opportunities, and access to transportation will be called upon to make room for family-occupied, mixed-income housing,” the statement said.
In addition, the county will allocate federal housing funds that support fair housing goals. MHANY will receive $5.4 million to be used for affordable housing development in the county. NYCC, meanwhile, will receive $120,000 for fair housing education, outreach and advocacy under the settlement.
When the lawsuit was originally filed, it focused a good share of its attention on Garden City in Nassau County, a village that was predominantly white and that, according to the lawsuit, exemplified the county’s residential segregation.
A 2005 amended complaint, for instance, stated that the legal action was challenging “defendant County’s ongoing discriminatory acts and long-standing pattern and practice of preventing African-American, other Black and Hispanic persons from residing in predominantly white communities of Nassau County and, specifically, the recent and imminent acts of the Defendants that effectively prevent affordable multi-family housing opportunities from being developed on a 25-acre parcel of County-owned property in Garden City, thereby perpetuating not only the exclusion of minorities from the overwhelmingly white enclave of Garden City, but also the pattern of racial and ethnic housing segregation in Nassau County generally, which is already one of the most segregated counties in the entire United States.”
The complaint’s numerous causes of action included alleged civil rights violations as well as Fair Housing Act violations. The suit was brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Brown of Hogan Lovells, which made clear that it had placed dozens of its staff on the pro bono effort over the years, noted on Friday that “Hogan Lovells has been committed to this case for fourteen years, both in pursuing the now-settled claims against the County, and in litigating against the Village of Garden City and obtaining victories in the trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.”
Frederick Brewington, another attorney for the plaintiffs, pointed repeatedly in his comments to what can be achieved when opposing sides in litigation come together to work out a solution.
“When points of disagreement can mature into points of concurrence, mutual benefit is usually the product. That is exactly what has happened in this case,” he said. “Rather than being dedicated to opposition, the parties rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to find common ground in the area of fair and affordable housing. … Nassau is to be applauded for taking a different and constructive approach. An approach that benefits all the residents of Nassau County.”
The Nassau County Attorney’s Office helped represent the county, according to the case’s docket sheet. The docket also showed that various other defendants named in the suit, including Garden City, were terminated as defendants over the years.