Dem Running for Congress Was Involved in Racist Eviction Scheme to Remove Black Families from White Neighborhood
Former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning is the establishment favorite in the Democratic congressional primary in New York’s First District. Backed by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party, and former New York State Democratic Party Chair Judith Hope, among others, Browning has been sold as the safe, moderate choice to defeat two-term Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY). But the Democratic hopeful has a controversial past. She was once accused of involvement in a racist eviction scheme to oust poor Black families from the small Long Island Village of Mastic Beach.
In February 2015, Newsday reported that eight African American residents and landlords were suing Mastic Beach and its former administrator, Tim Brojer, for violations in 2012 of the Fair Housing Act, the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution, and the Suffolk County Human Rights Law. The complaint alleged that the village — and Brojer specifically — had been using minor code enforcement violations and the rental permitting process to evict low-income Black families from their homes, often with just a few hours notice, and pressure their landlords.
Named prominently in the lawsuit was Kate Browning.
Browning, the suit alleged, had been involved in an effort to evict Maurice and Lisa Williams and their children from their home.
According to the complaint, the Williamses had moved into a Mastic Beach rental in April 2008 using their monthly Section 8 housing voucher from the Community Development Corporation of Long Island (CDC). The house, located in a predominantly white, predominantly owner-occupied neighborhood, had a valid rental permit from the Town of Brookhaven and had passed its annual CDC inspection. Nevertheless, Brojer, who had never inspected the house, reached out to the Suffolk County Department of Social Services (DSS), claiming that the village had inspected the property and uncovered “health and safety violations.”
“Brojer further requested that DSS ‘initiate 143-B rent withholding in accordance with New York Social Welfare Law,’ and also reported that the house was ‘unfit for human occupancy,’” the complaint reads.
At Brojer’s prompting, the CDC sent an inspector who subsequently found no violations. Nevertheless, Brojer placed an “Unfit for Human Habitation” notice on the door. The next day, the CDC inspector returned and failed the house due to the notice. Two days later, the CDC informed the Williams’ landlord, Diane Saunders, that it was terminating payments for the house because it had been condemned.
Enter Kate Browning.
The complaint alleges that “the Village worked with Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning to conduct a campaign of harassment and intimidation designed to coerce Saunders into evicting the Williams and preventing her from renting her property until she did so.” Browning sent several letters to Saunders on behalf of the village, making false claims about her tenants and offering both carrot and stick to try to remove the Williams family from the neighborhood.
“On June 15, 2012, Browning sent a letter to Saunders stating that the Village had contacted her office ‘in reference to an eviction which they are working on’ at her property,” the complaint reads. “Browning’s letter stated that there were reports from the Suffolk County Police Department of numerous arrests of her tenants; however, upon information and belief, this claim was false and made without any factual basis. Browning further stated that she had also been in touch with CDC to let them know about the ‘problem tenants,’ and that ‘all payments from CDC will be stopped.’”
Browning’s second letter came on August 13, after Saunders had made repeated efforts to satisfy Brojer’s concerns. Nevertheless, the village administrator made clear that in order for him to sign off on the house, the landlord would need to evict the Williams family — even after his inspection of the property turned up only minor deficiencies, which were promptly fixed. Browning offered assistance with the eviction.
The complaint alleges that Saunders did eventually evict the Williams family due to the CDC cutting off Section 8 assistance, but Brojer remained unhelpful until the process was “well underway.” Browning again weighed in to make sure the eviction went smoothly. In a third letter on October 25, she pressured Saunders to submit the eviction papers to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.
On November 19, the complaint states that Brojer re-inspected the house and found no deficiencies but announced his intention to lower the maximum occupancy. Nevertheless, the CDC told Lisa Williams it would not be reinstating the Section 8 assistance because Brojer had not completed the certificate of occupancy, and in any event, “new rental permit will change the number of occupants allowed to reside at that address and that number is less than the number of people in your household.”
Brojer’s treatment of the Williams family earned him public scorn from village trustee Bruce Summa in June 2014. However, it was not until several months later, in February 2015, that he was terminated. The suit was eventually settled for $387,500.
Ms. Browning’s campaign provided the following statement:
Legislator Browning was not named as a party to the discrimination suit filed against the Village of Mastic Beach and its administrator, Tim Brojer, because once she became aware of issues, she shared those concerns and any information she was aware of, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and officials with ERASE Racism.
According to former Mastic Beach Trustee and Mayor Maura Spery, Browning got involved in the effort to expose Brojer after she became aware of his misdeeds, but was likely overworked and had no reason to doubt Brojer. “It’s not just coming from a neighbor, it’s coming from a government official,” she said. “He’s a building inspector, he’s a code enforcement officer, he’s the head administrator. So why would the next layer of government think they need to check up on him and his work?“
A personal friend of Browning’s for 12 years, Spery did acknowledge that weighing in against the Williamses on behalf of Brojer was a bad decision — but cautioned that the situation was “complicated.” As far as the complaint was concerned, Spery wrote it off as the defense attorneys doing their job. “If I’m the defense attorney,” she said “I’m going to make Kate Browning out to be the devil — 100 percent — that’s their job. But in the end the truth always lies in the middle. Is Kate — did she do this? Absolutely. But you have to be down here to understand the politics of what goes down here in 70 percent Trumpland.”
Tim Brojer did not respond to a request for comment.