Opening Acts: December 13, 2017

Landmark Settlement Resolves Fair Housing Case

Community Coalition and New York City Resolve an Eight-Year Legal Battle Over the Development of Brooklyn’s Broadway Triangle

On December 4, 2017, the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition (“BTCC”), a group of more than 40 non-profit organizations, residents, and civil rights advocates, announced that it had reached a settlement over the development of affordable housing units in the Brooklyn’s Broadway Triangle Urban Renewal area. The settlement provides for the creation of permanent low-income rental housing with the explicit intention of promoting racial integration and equal opportunity in a neighborhood with longstanding racial segregation.

The lawsuit, filed in 2009, names the City of New York and the City’s Housing and Preservation Department (HPD) as defendants. The case stemmed from a rezoning and housing redevelopment plan advanced by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to develop the vacant area known as the Broadway Triangle, which lies on the border of the Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods. The lawsuit alleged that the City’s plan would have discriminated against housing applicants based on race and national origin. The complaint also alleged the plan would reinforce racial segregation by giving preference for half of the affordable housing units to residents in Community District 1 (a.k.a. Williamsburg), a predominantly white neighborhood in violation of federal and city fair housing laws. The same preference was not available to the immediately adjacent Community District 3, the predominantly African American Bed-Stuy neighborhood.

In 2012, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman issued a preliminary injunction halting the city from moving forward with its housing development plan. In that ruling, Judge Goodman stated that the proposed housing would “perpetuate segregation” by favoring white and Hasidic residents over blacks and Hispanics. “Further, defendants have not demonstrated that their policies and actions are furthered by legitimate interests, which cannot be satisfied by lesser, non-discriminatory alternatives.” In early 2014, settlement discussions began between the parties, which continued intermittently for the next three years.

The settlement, so ordered by Judge Shlomo S. Hagler on December 5, 2017, obligates the City to issue requests for proposals from, and provide subsidies to, developers to build permanently affordable multi-family rental units on five City-owned sites within the Broadway Triangle area, expected to total approximately 375 units. A combined local residency preference for half of the units will be given to residents of Community Districts 1 and 3. The settlement also incorporates a robust marketing plan for each site to reach a diverse pool of applicants for the units.

Additionally, New York City will pay $6.1 million to resolve the claim. Under the agreement, Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A. will receive a $2.4 million three-year contract from New York City to provide fair housing workshops, counseling, and legal representation for people alleging housing discrimination in the neighborhood. The contract is renewable for an additional three years at $2.4 million. In addition to the $4.8 million for six years of fair housing services, the City agreed to pay $1.3 million for plaintiffs’ attorneys fees and costs.

“After years of effort, today’s settlement means the city will properly respond to the real needs of our diverse communities in North Brooklyn,” said BTCC Chairman Juan Ramos in a statement. Alexandra Fennel, of Churches United for Fair Housing, one of the plaintiffs, remarked, “This just reaffirms for us that if we don’t study the racial impact of proposed rezoning we are doomed to further segregation.”

Fred Freiberg, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Justice Center praised the parties for reaching this settlement and stated that, “All local communities, in carrying out their duty to affirmatively further fair housing, should be assessing the fair housing impact of zoning and land-use decisions to ensure that they are reducing, and not perpetuating, residential racial segregation.” Freiberg added that the allegations in this case, “provided a concrete example of how the Community Board preference policy would have had a racially discriminatory impact. In a segregated city, Community Board preferences effectively limit access to affordable housing based on race or national origin and reinforce segregation.”

The plaintiffs were represented by Martin S. Needelman and Shekar Krishnan of Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A, Arthur Eisenberg of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Diane L. Houk and Zoe Salzman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff and Abady, LLP.

Shekar Krishnan stated that, “this case has always been fundamentally an issue of racial justice for communities in Brooklyn marred by years of segregation and gentrification.” Krishnan added that, “the Broadway Triangle settlement is a victory for fair housing in New York City.” Diane L. Houk commented that the settlement has national implications because the, “agreement provides a strong template for other neighborhoods throughout the country to use when challenging racially discriminatory housing redevelopment plans.”

The mission of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.