Long Island community with Nazi-linked past ordered to end housing discrimination

A Long Island community with a history of connections to the Nazi Party must end its practice of only allowing whites of German heritage to buy a home in the area, the New York attorney general declared on Wednesday.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office reached a settlement agreement with the German American Settlement League, a community in Yaphank, New York, that requires the nonprofit to “overhaul” its policies and “end its practice of housing discrimination on the basis of race and national origin.”

According to Schneiderman’s office, the settlement stems from an investigation into the GASL after reports surfaced that organization excluded non-white, non-German individuals from membership and home ownership in its community.

According to various media reports from the New York area, the community’s exclusion of non-white, non-Germans stretches back into the middle of the last century and has Nazi-related roots.

Here’s a piece on the area from the New York Times in 2015:

Here in this rural Long Island community, a Nazi summer camp once held parades before American flags and banners bearing swastikas. Nearby streets were named after Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and other leaders of Nazi-era Germany.

While the parades are gone and the streets have been renamed, one thing has not changed: The original owners of this tract of land kept a clause in its bylaws requiring the homeowners to be primarily “of German extraction.” That has kept this community of 45 families almost entirely white.

It has also left one family frustrated and headed to court to challenge the bylaws. Philip Kneer and Patricia Flynn-Kneer, a couple who lived in a two bedroom, ranch-style home along the main road, are suing the community organization that owns the land under their house, the German American Settlement League, alleging that the league’s housing practices are discriminatory and violate the Fair Housing Act.

According to Schneiderman’s office, its investigation found that the GASL’s bylaws “expressly limited membership in the organization and home ownership on GASL property to individuals ‘primarily of German extraction and of good character and reputation,’” which explicitly excluded non-Germans from membership or homeownership in the GASL community.

The GASL functions as a membership organization. It owns the land in the community, and leases it to individuals that are members and residents. So, when an individual buys a home in the area, they are buying the structure only, not the land underneath it.

Additionally, property owners who wanted to sell (like the Kneer family) were forbidden from advertising their home through any outside means.

According to Schneiderman’s office, when his office began its investigation, the GASL prohibited public advertisement of properties for sale by existing GASL members. Members were only allowed to announce a listing in person at GASL member meetings or through internal flyers and meeting minutes circulated to the existing membership.

According to the AG’s office, the GASL changed its policies in 2016 as the result of a civil settlement that required the GASL to institute a number of reforms, including revising its rules to allow for non-German residents and to permit residents to advertise home sales to the public.

The GASL also agreed to revise its membership practices to comply with fair housing laws; participate in fair housing training; conduct community outreach; and keep records of documents demonstrating its compliance with the agreement, among other reforms, Schneiderman’s office said.

But despite these changes, the AG’s investigation found that GASL’s membership application processes and property lease-ownership structure “continued to make new membership and property re-sale within the GASL community unreasonably difficult.”

As a result, the AG’s office found that these conditions “disparately impacted” non-white, non-German potential residents who had previously been explicitly excluded from membership under the GASL’s old policies, and therefore prevented any substantial turnover among GASL homeowners.

As a result of this new settlement, the GASL is prohibited from discriminating against individuals on the basis of race or national origin and requires the organization to “fully reform membership policies, governance structure, and internal controls in order to ensure compliance with existing federal, state, and local fair housing and not-for-profit corporation laws – including replacing its president and treasurer, and regularly reporting to the attorney general’s office to demonstrate compliance,” Schneiderman’s office stated.

“The GASL’s discriminatory practices were a remnant of a disgraceful past that has no place in New York or anywhere,” Schneiderman said. “This agreement will once and for all put an end to the GASL’s discrimination, ensuring that all New Yorkers are afforded equal access to housing opportunities — regardless of their race or national origin. My office will continue to uphold and protect all New Yorkers’ fundamental right to equal access to housing.”

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