In Brooklyn, An Anti-Development Lawsuit Actually Advances

reidcb1 0 In Brooklyn, An Anti Development Lawsuit Actually AdvancesThere’s a pattern in New York, particularly during the Bloomberg administration, for those who oppose large-scale development; it goes something like this:

1)      City presents plan for big development/rezoning.

2)      Angry neighbors mount grass-roots campaign against it; lobby local council member to vote against plan.

3)      Local council member negotiates a compromise and declares a “win-win;” project advances.

4)      Neighbors, still upset, file a lawsuit to stop development, usually challenging the environmental review and approvals process.

5)      Neighbors lose lawsuit; development proceeds.

Occasionally this plan gets off track early on—sometimes the city doesn’t proceed if it feels it is going to lose—but rarely does the plan ever get defeated at the lawsuit stage. (The 1970s Westway plan to sink the West Side Highway was a very notable exception, in that a lawsuit stopped a gigantic project that was ready to go, forever altering the future of the West Side as a result).

So it came as something of a surprise last week when a judge ruled that a lawsuit challenging a Bloomberg administration’s affordable-housing development in Brooklyn—Broadway Triangle—could proceed.

Based on the ruling by the judge, Emily Goodman, it seems the opponents may have a decent case challenging the city for racial discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. The ruling, which went online in the state courts’ Web site Wednesday, threw out most of the claims from the set of community groups known as the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, but, notably, allowed a claim to move forward that alleged the city specifically designed the development to favor tenants who are Hasidic Jews.

If this is indeed illegal, it doesn’t seem like it should be all that difficult to prove.

The fight over Broadway Triangle has long been the topic of criticism given its appearance of political jockeying and favoritism affecting the development itself. The politically powerful Hasidic group United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg was given a contract to manage some of the affordable housing at the site, and its units would be shorter and with more bedrooms than a typical affordable unit. The Broadway Triangle Community Coalition points to these attributes to illustrate the discriminatory intent: the Hasidic families in the area tend to be far larger than typical families, and need three- and four-bedroom apartments. They also prefer low-rise buildings, so there are fewer floors to walk up during the Sabbath. By favoring Hasidics, one group was favored over other groups that dominate the area.

While the city contends this does not prove any discrimination, it is, of course, well known that the Jewish groups in Williamsburg prefer larger affordable units. In the recent zoning approval for a development named Rose Plaza, groups such as the UJO pushed for more three- and four-bedroom, below-market-rate apartments before they were willing to support the plan. The expectation there was clear to any lobbyist and lawmaker involved: The three-bedroom apartments were intended to give more Hasidic families subsidized housing.

The full ruling can be found here.  Below, a few excerpts:

As part of a discussion on demographic statistics that show the general population does not need so many large apartments:

Although the statistics do not reflect that only white or Hasidic families desire the larger apartments, they do indicate the overwhelming need for smaller apartments, at least at NYCHA projects.’” With such negligible demand for large apartments as compared with smaller ones, it is questionable why in such a daunting housing crisis, there is such so powerful a commitment, with funds, to construct only large, and, therefore, fewer, apartments.

And on the city’s citation of the UJO-managed Schaeffer Landing development, suggesting it illustrated nondiscriminatory practices:

Moreover, although Plaintiffs have not cited any statistics regarding City sponsored projects in Williamsburg, such as the one at issue, the City has cited to Schaeffer Landing, a UJO project, as an example of diversity. However, Schaeffer Landing is not a shining example since residents at Schaeffer Landing are 42% white, while the Citywide application pool, at least for NYCHA housing, is overwhelmingly non-white. “

And on why there will be a hearing (scheduled for June 14):

Accordingly, the current submissions are sufficient to warrant a hearing based on claims of discrimination, segregation, and favoritism in Williamsburg (see JA. Preston Corp. v Fabrication Enterprises, Inc., 68 NY2d at 400, supra). If through clarification and testimony, Plaintiffs establish a likelihood of success under either the Fair Housing Act or the Human Rights Laws, as to the preference, then the equities would lie in Plaintiffs favor and the harm resulting from the lack of an injunction would be irreparable-i.e., a deprivation of housing financed with public  (City and State) funds, as a result of discrimination.

ebrown@observer.com