Hubbard extends housing ban started by predecessor

One year ago this week, former Riverhead Town supervisor Yvette Aguiar issued a controversial emergency order that created a housing ban of New York City-based migrants and asylum seekers in town.

In issuing the order, Riverhead became the first Long Island municipality to declare a “state of emergency” prohibiting local hotel and motel owners from signing deals with the city to house the newly arrived migrants.

Steve Bellone, Suffolk County executive at the time, issued a similar countywide state of emergency less than two weeks later. Ultimately, more than two dozen municipalities in New York State eventually issued similar orders of their own.

Riverhead’s executive order remains in place today, and town officials intend to keep extending it “as long as there is any threat of [New York City-based migrants] coming to Riverhead,” current Supervisor Tim Hubbard said in an interview this week. 

“We will keep it open as long as the buses are still bringing people to New York City. Even though there was some criticism for doing it, I’ve gotten far more comments about people being happy that the order is in place than anyone who is unhappy. Townwide, there’s far more support to keep the order in place than opposition.”

Several community members who criticized the measure last spring declined this week to comment on the ongoing order.

Mark McLaughlin, who became chair of Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force last fall, said simply that he supports the town’s new supervisor.

“Tim Hubbard was elected for a reason,” Mr. McLaughlin said in an interview. “He’s well-qualified for what he’s doing. I believe in him and believe in his leadership.”

The original emergency order, issued May 16, 2023, asserted that “all hotels, motels, bed and breakfast facilities, inns, cottages, campgrounds or any other transient lodging units and/or facilities allowing short term rentals do not accept said migrants and/or asylum seekers for housing” within the town.

A Town Board statement that accompanied the executive order declared that Riverhead had done “more than its fair share” in creating affordable housing for low-income families and individuals.

The statement said that in and around Riverhead last spring, there were “an estimated 224 overcrowded apartments or over-occupied homes,” as well as “91 unlawful apartments … 35 unsafe buildings … two large-scale non-transient homeless shelters … 14 sober homes … and three outdoor homeless encampments.”

The executive order further stated that “there is nothing humanitarian about a sanctuary city sending busloads of people to a rural [t]own that does not have the infrastructure to care for them, especially since social services funding is not applicable to undocumented individuals.”

A violation of an executive order is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by fines and/or up to 90 days in jail.

In June 2023, New York City sued Riverhead and the other municipalities for issuing “unlawful emergency executive orders” to prohibit the city from “arranging for even a small number of asylum seekers to stay … within their jurisdiction.”

The lawsuit claimed that municipalities such as Riverhead were violating the state’s Human Rights Law, which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of citizenship or immigration status. Last fall, the city dropped the lawsuits against all the municipalities following a court ruling that the city would have to litigate each case individually.

In July, Riverhead officials revised the order — which must be renewed weekly — to remove any references to “migrants” or “asylum seekers.”

At the time, town attorney Erik Howard said that the decision to revise the language came at the recommendation of a special counsel hired to defend the town against the New York City lawsuit.

Going forward, Mr. Howard said in an interview, “this is going to apply to everyone.”

Mr. Howard said at the time that the town’s “intention was never to be discriminatory — and in the litigation with the city, making this change, we felt like that would help us sort of clarify our intent here. Our intent is to maintain the applicability of the Riverhead town code and the permits and site plans issued and approved by the building and planning departments.” He said the change also protects those already being housed in Riverhead from being displaced by future contracts with the city or its representatives. Last summer’s revision of the language in Riverhead’s executive order was first reported by RiverheadLocal.

Ms. Aguiar, who is now retired, said in an interview this week that she “does not regret” issuing the order, adding, “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

She said that in the year since she issued the order “unfortunately, no one at the county, state or federal level has done anything to work on that problem — and the problem has evidently increased in severity.”

She said the state of emergency is just as necessary today as it was a year ago.

“No one is against legal immigration — I’m 100% for it,” Ms. Aguiar said, “It’s undocumented people that are being dropped off here … It’s a disservice to the community.”

It was unclear this week whether Suffolk County’s emergency order remains in effect. A spokesperson for County Executive Ed Romaine did not respond to a request for comment.