Opening Acts Newletter: December 10, 2013

Court Finds Garden City Engaged in Racially Discriminatory Land-Use and Zoning Practices

Nassau County Suburb Violated Fair Housing Act

On December 6, 2013, Federal District Judge Arthur D. Spatt issued a decision finding that the Garden City Board of Trustees and the Village of Garden City violated the federal Fair Housing Act by engaging in illegal discrimination based on race and national origin, including perpetuating segregation. In 2004, the predominantly white suburb considered and rejected a zoning plan that would have made it possible to construct affordable housing on land that was owned by Nassau County. After opposition in public meetings and other actions demonstrating racially tinged objections to affordable housing, the Village opted to adopt low-density zoning that favored high-cost single-family homes and townhomes on that site. Judge Spatt found that “discrimination played a determinative role” in Garden City’s decision to reject the original zoning proposal and that African Americans and Latinos in Nassau County “bore the brunt of the negative impacts” of that decision. The plaintiffs, New York Communities for Change and MHANY Management Co., were represented by the national Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Hogan Lovells US LLP, and the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington.

In 2004-2005, after receiving a complaint from ACORN (now New York Communities for Change), the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) provided investigative assistance by making open records requests, reviewing newspaper articles and public hearing minutes/transcripts, conducting interviews, preparing a summary of the allegations, and referring ACORN to the Lawyer’s Committee to obtain legal representation. The plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit in 2005. After the plaintiffs prevailed on motions to dismiss in 2006 and a motion for summary judgment in 2012, the case went to trial in June 2013.

In the 65-page decision, the judge ordered the plaintiffs to submit a remedial plan to the Court which will prescribe steps that Garden City might take to counteract the effects of the discrimination and to prevent it from occurring in the future. 

Stanley Brown, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and a partner at Hogan Lovells US LLP noted, “This case is a prime example of housing discrimination and exclusionary zoning practices that are being used by too many communities across the country to block affordable housing that would be occupied by minorities.” Brown added, “This victory will send a strong message to other government entities that the use of restrictive zoning to discourage minority residency will not be tolerated.”

“We congratulate the plaintiffs and their attorneys on this important and hard fought victory,” commented Gene Capello, FHJC Board President. Capello added, “Other suburban communities in the New York region should take note of this decision and understand that there are consequences whenever race is allowed to infect decisions concerning land-use, zoning, and the development of affordable housing.”