The topic of housing discrimination has been moving forward monthly in Suffolk County, and a task force dedicated to ensuring fair housing took questions and comments from the public last Thursday, Oct. 22. Various interested parties were also present for the Zoom meeting.
Mitch Pally, CEO of Long Island Builders Institute, said the task force should look at where affordable housing is built in Suffolk County.
“Those types of issues are essential to making sure people have fair housing all throughout the county,” he said. “Why affordable housing is only located in certain areas of the county and not others is an essential public policy issue that this task force or the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission or the Suffolk County Legislature or somebody should look at. It affects everybody in that regard. We are always willing to help in that context, but we are at the mercy of the zoning practices of the local municipalities, unfortunately.”
With the villages and townships claiming responsibility in this regard as well as holding landlords accountable, tenants are caught in the middle. Ian Wilder, representing Long Island Housing Services, pointed out that the service has housing counselors who deal with landlord/tenant issues.
“I would recommend against anyone calling a village or town to make a complaint about the property they are living in because that may create a self-eviction without giving them time to be able to move,” said Wilder. “I would first suggest talking to a housing counseling agency to find out what options they have in terms of dealing with the landlord.”
Wilder added that the resolution setting up this committee was very narrow, adding that there are options through the county of how to remedy some of these issues.
“The county gets community-development block grant funds. Those block grant funds must be used to affirmatively further fair housing. That is within the state law,” he said. “They can require the towns that they give the money in to affirmatively further fair housing, which includes requiring them to have inclusive zoning.”
He referenced a situation in Westchester County in which funds were withheld due to the lack of inclusive housing. Wilder said that even though counties do not have direct zoning powers, they have power to influence such.
“They cannot just allow affordable housing to be built in what is called low-opportunity areas but allow it to be built in every zip code in the town,” Wilder said.
Legis. Sam Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) led the Zoom call, and asked Wilder a question that Gonzalez said is brought up often: what does it means for the school districts to have inclusive housing? Wilder and Elaine Gross, president of ERASE Racism, both responded that they disagree with the notion that school districts are negatively affected by inclusive housing.
“It is very unfortunate that people are ignorant of their responsibility to educate all children,” Gross said. “I do also think that some people are not ignorant but they are choosing who they want to educate. They have come out en masse to oppose affordable housing because ‘those children might be coming in.’”
That angers Wilder.
“A school district’s job is to educate the children in the district, not to question whether those children get educated,” he said. “Saying ‘we are not going to educate children in our community’ is a real problem to me.”
The task force has been holding monthly meetings for three months. The group was supposed to start in March, but was postponed due to the pandemic. The group met on Wednesday, Oct. 28, to discuss the commentary provided last week.