“Gavel.” Credit: bloomsberries.

May 17, 2017; N.Y. Daily News and WABC-7

Yesterday, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a settlement agreement with Long Island’s German-American Settlement League to end their discriminatory housing policies and practices that have continued from the 1940s. While the land is owned by the organization, the structures are leased to members. The homes can be purchased, but never the land.

In the summers during the late 1930s, you could take a train out of Penn Station to Yaphank, Long Island, with other German-American Bund members to spend time at Camp Siegfried. “You will meet people who think like you do” it said in the camp brochure. After World War II, the streets and the camp shifted their names away from Nazi and Germanic themes, but the community continued to be owned and operated by the German Settlement League, which became the German American Settlement League (GASL), the current owner of the 40-acre parcel, which contains 50 homes.

The nonprofit was investigated by the AG’s office in answer to reports that the community routinely excluded non-German, non-white families from membership and homeownership. It was revealed at the initiation of the investigation that the by-laws of the organization specifically limited membership to those of mostly German extraction and “of good character and reputation.”

GASL is now prohibited from discriminating against anyone on basis of race or national origin and must change its internal structure, along with replacing the president and treasurer.

“The GASL’s discriminatory practices were a remnant of a disgraceful past that has no place in New York or anywhere,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “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.”

In reviewing all corporate documents, complaints, leadership testimony, and membership procedures, the Attorney General’s investigation found that GASL’s practices and housing policies and practices violated laws on the local, state, and federal level. Even the advertising for available housing was forbidden outside of membership meetings to continue the discrimination.

GASL was supposed to correct its practices after a 2015 lawsuit:

The GASL revised its by-laws and policies in 2016 pursuant to the terms of a civil settlement entered before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in a matter titled Long Island Housing Services, Inc. v. German-American Settlement League, Inc., 15-cv-5987 (E.D.N.Y.) (Azrack, J.). The Eastern District settlement awarded monetary relief to three private plaintiffs and required the GASL to institute a number of reforms, including revising its by-laws to no longer exclude membership to people of German extraction and to permit members 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.

We reported on the settlement of that lawsuit here. However, the difficulties remained for new membership and the resale of property outside the existing white, primarily German community. The GASL also failed to create transparent, internal controls regarding records, assets, and leadership conflicts.

GASL has now agreed to:

  • cease discriminating against any individuals on the basis of race or national origin and fully comply with fair housing and nonprofit corporation laws;
  • adopt broad remedial governance reforms, including the immediate replacement of its current President and Treasurer;
  • regularly report to the New York Attorney General over a period of three years to demonstrate compliance with the agreement, including any changes to the by-laws, revised membership applications, meeting minutes, financial reports, and documents related to complaints of possible discrimination against individuals applying for membership or seeking to buy property from the GASL or its members;
  • publish notices within the Yaphank community publicly affirming that the GASL is committed to equal housing opportunity and does not discriminate against potential members or home buyers based on any protected status; and
  • implement a written record retention policy that will ensure proper storage of the organization’s corporate records, including the record of revised application screening processes imposed by the agreement, that will enhance transparency and ensure the GASL does not discriminate against any individuals on the basis of their race or national origin.

It appears that what was missing from the agreement last year was regular reporting to the state attorney general in order to keep to the agreement.—Marian Conway