Standing Up For Housing Equality


Multi-day Garden City sit-in staged

New York Communities for Change (NYCC) protests village housing policy (Photos by Christy Hinko)

The racial debate raged 367 miles away from Long Island in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday, Aug. 12, making national headlines and ending in deadly violence as a result of white nationalists, neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan members protesting the removal of Confederate statues throughout the South.

And while completely unrelated, members and supporters of the New York Communities for Change (NYCC) were on their third and final day of their own multi-day tent city sit-in and demonstration march to call attention to the color divide on Long Island, specifically in Garden City. The message though isn’t necessarily black versus white; it’s a call to end segregation based on all things: race, income, social status, and is supported by local residents of all colors and beliefs. NYCC is a coalition of working families committed to social and economic justice.

Supported and protested throughout the span of three days, NYCC received encouraging thumbs-up, whistles, heartening words and honked horns as cars passed, but also middle fingers, racial slurs and disapproving advice, dozens of expressed opinions were heard within the first five minutes of Anton Media staff being on-site to speak with the demonstrators about their message.

“As far as any protest is concerned, we have no issue with anyone exercising such rights,” said a representative from the Village of Garden City’s Board of Trustees Public Information Committee.

NYCC’s tent city protest stayed up for three days at the corner of Eleventh Street and Washington Avenue

The peaceful protest has been an annual event since 2005, but several residents in the neighborhood walked over to the tent-city for the first time to learn of its message. Some mistook the tented protest as a scouting camp event. Some thought the NYCC demonstrators were actually re-enactors staging a Civil War encampment. Unaware of the significance of the location chosen in Garden City to demonstrate but fittingly ironic, the group picked the historically marked corner of Eleventh Street and Washington Avenue that once served as Camp Winfield Scott, a Civil War Army instruction camp, established in 1861.

“About 15 years ago my daughter (and her friend) wanted to move into Garden City to be closer to her job; she was making really good money and could afford to live here,” Atlanta Cockrell said, speaking of her daughter’s attempt to move into a Seventh Street apartment building back in the early 2000s.

Cockrell said her daughter, Veronica, called the rental office one morning and was told there were plenty of apartments for rent in the building, but when she arrived at 3 p.m. to see the apartment she was told by the rental agent that there were no vacant apartments and was turned away.

“Why are they like this? I went to school. I make good money,” Cockrell said of her daughter’s response the day she was denied viewing an apartment in Garden City. “This might have been her (Veronica’s) first real experience with discrimination because I always tried to encourage socialization with everyone and to not call out differences,” she added.

Cockrell was actively involved with ACORN, as the Long Island chapter’s founding member. She recalls immediately calling a meeting with other ACORN members to address the injustice.

“We began testing local real estate offices, sending in high profile people (of color), even celebrities, and found out we really do have a big problem here,” said Cockrell.

Passersby lobbed racial slurs and verbal abuse at the protesters from their vehicles.

Approximately two months after seeking legal representation Cockrell said the attorney resigned after receiving death threats, fearing for the safety of his wife and children. The group was advised to seek legal counsel outside of the state if they had planned to continue to seek justice and they did just that.

The group has been demonstrating in Garden City, with the first tent city in 2005.

“As a remedy to the lawsuit, the court ordered Garden City to join the Nassau Urban County Consortium,” said Lucas Sanchez, Long Island director for NYCC. “The consortium is the vehicle in which municipalities in Nassau County apply to HUD for federal dollars to receive CDBG (Community Development Block Grant Program) funds to offer affordable housing.”

He added, “The problem is the way the judge wrote the order, stating Garden City should join the consortium in good faith, but didn’t specify what good faith actually meant.” Sanchez said this loose legal language allowed the village to interpret the court order their own way. He said the village did join the consortium but has not actively applied consortium standards to allow for affordable housing.

“It’s like joining the gym and never going and saying, ‘But look, I joined the gym,’” Sanchez said.

HUD funding offsets the costs (taxes and funding) to municipalities for providing a certain percentage of affordable housing in any development.

“It’s been 10 years since the court ruling and nothing has been done to this space,” community activist and former Assembly candidate Mimi Pierre Johnson said, pointing to the ongoing construction of a county structure at Eleventh Street and Washington Avenue, which Johnson said was allegedly promised to be turned into affordable housing.

Board of Trustees Public Information Committee from the Village of Garden City declined to comment on any particular statements made by the protesters, but did share this statement on behalf of the village:

“Years ago, the county decided to build, at the request, we understand, of the local bar and the Office of Court Administration, a new family court at the former site of the Social Services building.

“The village does not own that property and the county obtained that property and neighboring land well over 50 years ago to build its court and other county facilities.

“The village was not involved in the decision to build a family court, and as far as we know, there is no pending or open decision to change the building to something else. We understand that the current schedule for completing the family court building is 2019.”

Cockrell advised that they are still actively in litigation, now under the suit name New York Communities for Change with Mutual Housing Authority New York (MHANY) versus Garden City.


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