Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Nassau DA To Ask Grand Jury To "Investigate" Illegal Housing
What do you know? The illegal rental of accessory apartments in single family homes is about to go before a Grand Jury in Nassau County. [SEE Newsday, Illegal Housing to get Full Attention.]
At first blush, this sounds as grand as the jury itself – round up the illegal landlords and haul them off to the County Jail for 30 days, 6 months, or perhaps even longer, should they fail to reveal their sources.
Dig just beneath the surface and you will find, by District Attorney Denis Dillon’s own concession, that the purpose of convening a Grand Jury on the illegal housing issue is not so much to prosecute the wrongdoing landlords (or, for that matter, the wrongdoing Realtors), but rather, to “study” the problem. As Newsday put it, “to find big-picture solutions to a problem that has plagued governments across Long Island for years. Those solutions may be presented in the form of a report that would be written by prosecutors, and adopted by the grand jury.”
Now maybe if the Grand Jury starts handing down indictments of Town officials – for dereliction of duty in failing to enforce the laws already on the books, themselves sufficient to stem the tide, or for only having 8 (count ‘em, 8) Building Inspectors for the whole of America’s largest township – then we’d see some progress. Forget the landlord. You put Kate Murray in handcuffs and walk her out of the courthouse before the waiting press and everybody will take notice. Don’t count on anything quite as grand from this Grand Jury.
There is no question that the illegal housing catastrophe – and the corresponding affordable housing crisis – require solutions, which mandates immediate study by housing and planning “experts” (not Prosecutors) - but to have a Grand Jury (which is composed of the same peers as you find on a Petite Jury – in other words, the guy at the corner bar who couldn’t weasel his way out of Jury Duty) "study" the problem is almost as useless as having the State Legislature appoint a Blue Ribbon Panel. To empanel a Grand Jury to investigate old men telling lawyer jokes at the courthouse, on the other hand – well, that’s a different story entirely. :-)
Darren Sandow, program director for the Long Island Unitarian Universalist Fund, which supports social, environmental and economic justice issues, has it right when he says we’ve been there and done that. The lack of affordable housing really is the bigger problem – and one which the Lee Koppelmans of Long Island shouldn’t blame civic and community groups for. [Take a look around our County and Towns, Lee. You call the haphazard and rampant development we’ve seen over the past 25 years and continuing to date “planning?”]
The other problem, almost as big and just as real, is the utter lack of enforcement by Town government – those charged with zoning and building code enforcement who are quick to point fingers, but mighty slow in pulling the trigger on those “tools” that Hempstead’s Mike Deery says the Town has in its arsenal. [That “arsenal” the Town of Hempstead constantly refers to reminds us of George Bush’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. You hear an awful lot about them, but they never seem to materialize.]
The non-starter here, which always seems to garner the most publicity, is the illegal immigrant. Gosh, unless your parents or grandparents or great grandparents were Native Americans (giving you the inalienable right to own and operate casinos), you are the sons and daughters of immigrants, too. And just ask any Native American and he’ll tell you – we’re all here illegally! Whether you are of German or Irish stock, African-American, or, as some of us like to put on those Census forms, Eastern-European American - or, for that matter, a Mexican laborer struggling to support a family and make a better life for his children - you deserve a roof overhead, in a house or apartment up to code, with an affordable rent or mortgage. Period.
Let’s start working together to find the answers, to insist that Town officials enforce Building Codes, and to get State, County, Town – and, yes, even the Feds – off their respective kiesters to develop, fund and implement a Master Plan that introduces affordable workforce and senior housing to the “downtowns” of our communities.
Lee Koppelman, if you have any ideas, we’re listening. Otherwise, about all any of us can do at this point is to await that Subpoena from the Grand Jury.