By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS
When one thinks of the Hamptons, what jumps to mind are masters of the universe and their mansions by the sea. But a strong, steady stream of immigrants has been flowing to the area for years, drawn by a service economy that demands hedges be trimmed and houses be cleaned. In the Springs, a hamlet in the town of East Hampton, where most of the houses are small and the year-round population is relatively large, the Hispanic population has tripled in the past 10 years — and tension has emerged.
Some longtime residents of the Springs and similar areas complain that homes are being illegally crowded, that houses with half a dozen cars parked outside are a blight on the street, and that the many children living inside are overwhelming the local schools and causing property taxes to rise. ...
The pockets of tension are concentrated in year-round communities, where the immigrants, legal and illegal, tend to live alongside the landscapers and the contractors with whom they are competing for business. These areas are far less affluent than the southern end of town, where Manhattanites spend the summer by the ocean, in homes hidden behind 12-foot hedges.
“South of the highway, the rich people, they don’t care,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, a carpenter from Colombia who has lived in East Hampton for 12 years. It is among “the working people, regular people like us,” he continued, where less welcoming sentiments can be found. “You can feel it.”
Most of the houses on the leafy, winding roads of the Springs are small, well kept but simple. Pickup trucks and modest cars are parked in driveways under fluttering American flags. Home prices and rents are relatively low. Most Springs residents are white, but according to the 2010 census, 37 percent are Hispanic.
Mr. Lynch and others who have raised the issue of crowded houses — at Town Board meetings or in property owner association newsletters — say it has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, but rather enforcement of existing codes that designate homes for single-family use. If a house is crammed with several families, they say, or occupied like a rooming house, that can hurt a whole street. Or when neighbors pack houses full of children, their critics complain of ending up shouldering an unfair portion of the school tax burden.
“This is really about property values and the neighborhood,” said Carol Saxe Buda, who helped begin a group called Unoccupy Springs about a year and a half ago to address crowding.
“A substantial number of illegally occupied homes reflect a certain community,” she added, referring to immigrants, but she emphasized that where the residents came from was never the reason her group singled out a home. The group’s members highlight only places that are, by their crowding, straining the local schools or threatening neighboring property values, she said. “We report houses that are problems," she said. “We don’t care who’s in them.”
The East Hampton housing code allows no more than four unrelated people, or one family, to occupy a single-family home, and town officials acknowledge that crowding does exist. They receive a few complaints each week, most frequently in the Springs, and some of those do result in violations. And the deputy town supervisor, Theresa K. Quigley, said the Springs had some of the highest per-acre taxes around.
Nonetheless, some residents, including Ms. Quigley, say the objections are more sinister. “The people who came to the Town Board insist there is nothing racial intended,” said Ms. Quigley, who was born and raised in the Hamptons. “They say they’re talking about overcrowding, but they’re talking about Latinos.”
Interestingly, the initial commenters on this article were largely liberal hateaholics who raged against the racist white Republican one percenters in beachfront mansions depicted in the article as protesting against illegal immigration. Over time, though, the comments section filled up with reasoned rebuttals from immigration restrictionists pointing out the horrible reading comprehension skills the early comments displayed.
Yet, the bigger point is that the useful concept of the white rich and the diverse poor teaming up to squeeze the middle in the name of fighting racism (e.g., Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide handing out $700,000 subprime mortgages to strawberry pickers to get rich while battling redlining) is simply not a part of the conceptual vocabulary of all but the most sophisticated thinkers today.
This spring, some residents went to a Town Board meeting waving giant photographs of homes they said were over-occupied, Ms. Quigley recounted, and threatening to compile and publicize a list of every one of those homes they could find. Ms. Quigley made a comment to a person nearby comparing the sentiments in the room to the rise of Nazism. That comment was picked up by a microphone and it soon typhooned into a controversy.
Last week, she refused to back down from the comparison.
“How, how, how could a country do what they did?” Ms. Quigley, who has lived in Germany, asked of that country’s past. “I don’t have an answer, but I can tell you one thing: It’s a series of little steps. It doesn’t happen in a huge bang. And it happens by targeting a group for your problems.”
East Hampton, she continued, “is a great place to live, but we have troubles.”
“People tend to blame the Latino community for their troubles,” she added. “Doesn’t that sound a little familiar? Like blaming the Jews for troubles in Germany.”
Fred Weinberg, a member of the Unoccupy Springs group who was at that Town Board meeting, said that as a Jewish man, he found the remarks extremely offensive, and he demanded Ms. Quigley’s resignation. She did not oblige or apologize.
Where could Ms. Quigley possibly have gotten the idea that citizens petitioning their elected officials for enforcement of laws broken by illegal aliens is starting America down the slippery slope to Auschwitz? From reading New York Times editorials, quite possibly.
Today he continues to work on the issues of crowding, he said, though he prefers to work away from Ms. Quigley when possible.
“I know there are people who probably are racist,” Mr. Weinberg said. “But it’s not me, it’s not Carol Buda, it’s not any of the people that I know who have been trying to work on this problem. We just want them, very simply, to enforce the law and protect our community.”