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Friday, August 1, 2014
Island Park consents to end federal lawsuit
(Page 3 of 3)
Howard Schwach/Herald
Houses on D’Amato Drive in Island Park were meant for minority homeowners, but went instead to local insiders, sparking a decades-long lawsuit that has ended with a consent agreement between the village and the federal government.

Rodriguez, who at the time was a 35-year-old airline worker, argued in his suit that he had tried many times to apply for one of 44 houses subsidized by the federal program in the early 1980s. But village officials, he said, repeatedly rejected his applications.

In 1995, Judge Glasser ruled that Island Park had violated the Federal Fair Housing Act and False Claims Act. Two years later, Magistrate Steven Gold recommended that the village pay a $5.4 million fine — slightly more than $1,000 for every resident. In addition, the village was to develop a plan to actively recruit minorities to move there. Prosecutors also recommended that Island Park redo a lottery for the original 44 homes and build an additional 44 that would be sold only to minorities. The case has been working its way through the courts since then.

Statistics from the 2010 Census show that there are 4,655 residents in Island Park, and 1,685 households. The total operating budget for the village for 2014 is $4.1 million.

Community activist Glenn Ingoglia, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he would have expected Mayor James Ruzicka to alert the community to the agreement soon after the village’s attorney signed it.

“There are some questions about how much the insurance company will pay towards the settlement, and whether or not the town has to build the 17 homes that must be sold to African-American homeowners, or can we just sell 17 vacant homes,” Ingoglia said. “After Sandy, there are lots of homes for sale in the village.”

He added, “I look forward to the meeting the mayor promised that will tell us what’s going on.”

Island Park officials could not be reached for comment on what the consent decree would cost taxpayers. Last month, however, when the possibility of an agreement was near, they said they would host a meeting in the near future to explain what the agreement means for residents. That meeting has yet to be scheduled.

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