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Smithtown

On December 13, 2007, the Lawyers’ Committee and private attorneys filed a complaint against the Town of Smithtown, New York, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, on behalf of several individual plaintiffs and a class of similarly situated individuals in the case of Vargas v. Town of Smithtown, CV-07-5202.  The complaint alleged that the Town’s use of a discriminatory residency preference in administering its Section 8 Housing Voucher Program violated the federal Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Over 97% of Smithtown’s residents are white.  Nevertheless, in administering the Section 8 Program, the Town gave preference to applicants who either lived or worked in Smithtown.  The plaintiffs alleged that this policy had a disparate impact on minorities seeking Section 8 housing and was administered in intentionally discriminatory manner based on allegations that the preference functioned as a residency requirement, prevented African-American and Latino applicants from being considered for Smithtown Section 8 vouchers and the reopening of the Section 8 waiting list on several occasions when the lists were grew to be predominantly minority.

On March 4, 2009, the parties filed a settlement agreement with the Court.  The agreement requires the Town to deposit $925,000 in a fund from which monetary damages will be distributed to the named plaintiffs and the proposed class members.  The class members are defined as “African-American and Hispanic individuals who do not live or work in Smithtown, New York and who applied to the Smithtown Section 8 Voucher Program in 2002 or 2006 when the waitlist opened and who subsequently were or would have been determined not eligible for the Program because they did not live or work in Smithtown.”  All nonresidents on the 2002 or 2006 waiting lists will also be placed at the top of the existing wait list and will receive full consideration for the next available vouchers, with the named plaintiffs having immediate priority for consideration.  In administering the rest of the 2006 waitlist, the Town will use a modified “residency preference” which will not discriminate whereby vouchers will be given to eligible applicants in the order they appear on the waitlist on a “one-resident to one-nonresident” basis.   In addition, the agreement provides that attorneys’ fees and costs of $200,000 will be paid from the fund.  To the extent that funds remain after diligent efforts to locate and compensate members of the class have been completed, they will be donated to organizations with missions to further promote fair housing within Suffolk County.

On July 1, 2009, the Court certified the Class, preliminarily approved the settlement.  At a fairness hearing on August 28, 2009, the judge officially approved the settlement.  On September 27, 2011 plaintiffs wrote the Court summarizing the completion of the class claims process.  Over $400,000 remained after this process and was donated to five fair housing and affordable housing organizations that did work in Suffolk County.

Click here to read the December 2007 complaint.
Click here to read the press release for the December 2007 complaint.
Click here to read the March 2009 settlement.
Click here to read the exhibits to the March 2009 settlement.
Click here to read the press release for the March 2009 settlement.
Click here to read the May 2009 motion for approval of the proposed order.
Click here to read the court’s July 2009 preliminary approval of the settlement.
Click here to read the notice for the Fairness Hearing on August 28, 2009.
Click here to read the court’s August 2009 final approval of the settlement.
Click here to read September 27, 2011 letter summarizing claims process
Click here to read the press release announcing the court’s approval of the settlement.

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