Illegal Housing Crackdown

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Village Justice Tom Liotti

The Town of North Hempstead and Westbury Village officials have embarked on a cooperative effort to stem the tide of illegal housing in the Village of Westbury and the Town of North Hempstead. The village east of Ellison Avenue and the unincorporated area of New Cassel in the Town of North Hempstead are both in the Westbury School District. Remarkably according to the most recent census data, Westbury Village’s population (including that part not in the Westbury School District, west of Ellison Avenue) is 15,132 whereas New Cassel which is entirely in the Westbury School District has a population of 14,059. Thus, New Cassel, totally comprised of African Americans and Hispanics, has a greater proportion of students in the Westbury Schools than the village itself. This ever growing disparity and the influx of undocumented immigrants primarily from Central America and Mexico, has created huge problems for the village, town and school district. Similar problems are faced by other parts of Nassau, the state and the nation. They are complex and cannot be solved by the well meaning, commendable efforts of strict code enforcement alone.

The Westbury schools must provide bi-lingual and special services for all of its children. The village, town and special districts provide additional municipal services such as sanitation, water and fire prevention. There is an affordable housing shortage so that profiteers and slumlords have bought up single family homes particularly in New Cassel and southeast Westbury. These homes are illegally occupied by multiple families and individuals. Homes taxed for single family occupancy may have as many as 25 people in them. The tax base cannot support the needs of the municipalities and the school districts.

Since illegal or undocumented immigrants have not been given a path to citizenship, they remain untaxed, below the radar and a drain on municipal services. The village, town and our justice court can only do so much without the support of the state and Congress addressing this problem. They are not getting it at all perhaps because in the south and west, outside of the industrial north where jobs are more plentiful, they have not been as affected.

But here we are amidst a growing problem with more than 15 million undocumented residents, most not paying taxes and often living in illegal housing provided by exploitive absentee landlords who receive cash for rentals. The Village Court must follow the law by protecting the civil and Constitutional rights of those who come before it. Code enforcement, particularly during the winter, can lead to displacement of children and adults without alternative, legal housing. Both the village and town have provided more affordable housing but there are still shortages.
Closing the borders, as one President has said, will not solve these problems. Instead we need to give the undocumented a path to citizenship so that they may start paying their fair share of taxes.

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Thomas F. Liotti is an attorney in Garden City and Village Justice in Westbury. He is also an adjunct professor of litigation in the legal studies department at Nassau Community College.

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