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Mar 9, 2011 9:15 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Hispanic Families Speak On Multifamily Housing

Mar 9, 2011 9:15 AM

In the living room of a house on Copeces Lane in Springs belonging to the Leon family hangs a small wooden plaque with the 10 Commandments inscribed on it in Spanish.

Religion is something that is very important to Adriana Leon, who lives with her two sons, a brother and sister, her parents, a cousin and other family members in the nine-bedroom house. Ms. Leon would not provide the exact number of family members who live in the house, but she said it was more than 10.

It is faith and a sense of humility that has helped her family endure the constant scrutiny and harassment they have experienced ever since moving to Springs in 2000, she said in an interview conducted in Spanish at her home.

The Leons, who come from Ecuador, are one of several households in Springs and East Hampton that have been at the forefront of a growing controversy over overcrowded and multifamily homes.

For several years, the house has been the subject of complaints from neighbors over the number of cars parked there and the number of people living there. Complaints have been raised about noise, debris and loud volleyball games as well.

The house was even involved in a controversial 2007 raid by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which made headlines after agents realized that all of the family members in the house were either legal citizens or residents. At the time, several family 
members alleged that the 
agents had been rough with them.

Although the case is still pending in court and the family has been advised by its attorneys not to discuss it, Ms. Leon described the experience as “very horrible.”

East Hampton Town code enforcement officials confirmed last month that they were investigating the Leon family’s home for possible zoning violations after receiving several complaints about the residence.

Ms. Leon, who cleans homes in East Hampton, said the situation has gotten to the point where it has affected her 
family’s safety, and even her health.

“When I read that this was happening, I began feeling ill, and so did my mother. My employers have been calling me to ask what is going on. And we see cars pulling up really fast to our house, and then slowing down to look at it, then pulling away. And in the past, people have knocked over our mailbox, then driven away,” she said. “How are we supposed to feel about that? That’s not freedom, living like that.”

Responding to the questions about the number of cars on the property, Ms. Leon said the cars all belong to family members. She owns two of them, one of which she drives in the summer, the other in winter.

She also said the family has town permits for the volleyball net, as well as a beauty salon run by her sister Jasmine in the home.

Ms. Leon said she has been approached by neighbors in the past with complaints about her home. Several of those conversations, she said, had not been pleasant.

“There were some instances where a person would be shouting things at us, and another time where we didn’t have a good conversation,” she said. “But we do what we can. We try not to let it bother us.”

The family is aware of the arguments from others in Springs about the housing issue, including their concerns that overcrowded homes with children who attend nearby schools could raise school taxes for neighbors and lower property values for surrounding homes at the same time.

“Don’t our children have the right to be educated, too?” she asked. “You can’t just keep them out of school. It would not be right.”

One of her sons, who asked not to be identified, said he believed there was more to it than that. “It is because there is racism, and a lot of it,” he said.

He was not the only one who felt that way. Damacio V. Reyes is a resident of a home on Norfolk Drive in Springs that is one of 25 houses the town is investigating for possible zoning violations. One of those issues, in the Reyes family’s case, is 
having eight people living in the three-bedroom house, which is owned by Joseph B. Hall of Garden City.

Although he has never experienced any problems from neighbors, Mr. Reyes said there was little doubt in his mind that there was more to the issue of multifamily housing than anyone was letting on.

“Unfortunately, East Hampton is a private kind of community. And when it comes to Hispanics, I have heard a lot of cases where it looks like they had problems living in places because they were Hispanic,” he said.

Mr. Reyes, who runs a landscaping company, lives at the home with his wife, two children, a brother and three other family members. Mr. Reyes said he moved to East Hampton in 2002 hoping to provide a better life for his family and to make enough to send back home to family members in Guatemala.

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I'm glad some Hispanic families are talking to the press about their housing circumstances. While I'm sympathetic to their economic circumstances, that doesn't absolve the homeowners from following local regulations. For instance, does the 9 bedroom home on Copeces have a septic system for 9 bedrooms? The family on Copeces is asking for understanding yet based on reports they haven't demonstrated neighborly behavior. Do I think some members of our community have anti-Latino feelings .. yes. Do ...more
By harbor (384), East Hampton on Mar 9, 11 10:19 AM
1 member liked this comment
I also just want to provide a better life for my family. That better life does not include looking at the more than 9 cars that are generally parked across the street from me on any given day. That life does not include looking at your landscaping business equipment parked on your front lawn, including a huge diesel truck, a trailer, your skidsteer. That life does not include a life where my kids can't go out in our front yard to play or ride their bikes because of the constant traffic going ...more
By Harbor at Heart (12), East Hampton on Mar 9, 11 12:33 PM
2 members liked this comment
You gotta be kidding with using religion to defend illegal behavior. They have a system of laws in their home,"the Ten Commandments", so why cant these people also follow the laws of the land. The Leon's are simply making excuses. The illegal housing problem is ruining Springs and it has had a hugely negative impact on the Springs School. If people ca'nt afford to live in this town legally, then they can work here and commute in. Many Americans do this. It's why people work in Manhattan and live ...more
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Mar 9, 11 6:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
"The illegal housing problem is ruining Springs"

Springs is only the tip of the ice berg.

I don't care if there are little green men living in the illegal houses, they are breaking the law. End of story.

By bb (852), Hampton Bays on Mar 10, 11 1:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
AMEN reality 101 and bb !!!!!
By EHDiva (7), East Hampton on Mar 10, 11 7:56 PM
Being religious doesn't excuse bad decisions that negatively impact the quality of life of those who live around you. To throw racism into it makes it even more rediculous. It doesn't matter if you're brown, black, white, christian, wiccans or worshipers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Stop making excuses, respect your neighbors and follow those commandments you claim to take so seriously, as well as the Law. People can't ask for understanding if they refuse to show any.
By YesYesBub (58), East Hampton on Mar 14, 11 11:02 AM
1 member liked this comment