Court finds City discriminated in housing project

Judge enjoined City’s redevelopment proposal for area straddling Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In December 2009, the City Council approved the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s redevelopment proposal for the Broadway Triangle Urban Renewal Area in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The seventeen-block urban renewal area was created in 1989 and is primarily located within Community District 1, with a six-block portion within Community District 3. CD 1 is predominately white with a large Hasidic community, and CD 3 is predominately black and Latino. 

The 2009 proposal included rezoning nine blocks within CD 1, and disposing of 35 City-owned properties to facilitate the development of 1,851 residential units, 844 of which would be affordable. The new zoning permitted residential buildings with maximum heights of 70 to 80 feet. Prior to approval, HPD selected the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg Inc. (UJO) and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council Inc. (RBSCC) to develop 181 affordable housing units on three assemblages of the City-owned lots. UJO and RBSCC planned to develop a large percentage of three- and four-bedroom apartments. The residents CD 1 would be given preference for 50 percent of the affordable units.

Before the City approved the plan, a group of community organizations known as the Broadway Triangle Coalition, filed a lawsuit to stop the proposal. The Coalition argued, among other things, that the proposal violated the federal Fair Housing Act because it would perpetuate racial segregation and disproportionately impact minority groups. According to the Coalition, the rezoning and HPD’s selection of the UJO and RBSCC through a no-bid process to develop low-rise buildings containing numerous multi-bedroom apartments would disproportionately benefit the Hasidic community. The day after the Council approved the plan, Supreme Court Justice Emily J. Goodman issued a temporary restraining order preventing the City from implementing the proposal. 7 CityLand 1 (Feb. 15, 2010).

In response to the Coalition’s claims, the City argued that highdensity development would be out of context in the neighborhood, and that the Fair Housing Act does not require the City to maximize affordable housing by zoning for taller buildings. The City also argued that the selection process for developers was not unusual, and noted that the affordable apartments would be awarded using a “race blind” lottery.

After eight days of hearings and a visit to the site, Justice Goodman issued a preliminary injunction order preventing the City from transferring the land and redeveloping any of the lots until the conclusion of the lawsuit. Justice Goodman ruled that the Coalition was likely to succeed in demonstrating that the plan violated the Fair Housing Act. According to Justice Goodman, the testimony of the Coalition’s expert in demographic analysis supported a finding that developing low-rise buildings with large apartments, despite a local demand for smaller apartments, favored one religious group at the expense of other groups. The City conceded that it had not analyzed the impact of the community preference, and Justice Goodman found that such a preference would only serve to perpetuate segregation in the neighborhood. Although Justice Goodman did not rule that the City must extend the community preference to CD 3, she noted that it might help correct the imbalance in the applicant pool for the project.

Broadway Triangle Community Coalition v. NYC, 2011 N.Y. Slip Op. 21465 (N.Y. Cty. Sup. Ct. Dec. 23, 2012) (Goodman, J.) (Attorneys: Taylor Pendergrass, Marty Needelman, A. Diane Houk, Shekar Krishnan, for the Coalition; Michael A. Cardozo, Ave Maria Brennan, for NYC).

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