Civil rights lawsuit over NYC housing lottery can go to trial, judge rules

A federal judge in the Southern District Court of New York is allowing a lawsuit over an affordable housing policy, known as “community preference,” to progress to trial, according to a report by the New York Times.

The lawsuit, first brought in 2015, takes issue with a policy that has been in place within New York City since 1988 and reserves 50% of the units in most subsidized affordable housing developments for residents of the local community district. This gives existing residents of a particular district an advantage in the city’s affordable housing lottery, provided that they qualify based on income.

However, the plaintiffs in the case allege that the policy reinforces segregation and runs afoul of the Fair Housing Act.

“The plaintiffs say the system maintains segregation because, for instance, a Black New Yorker who lives outside of the community district surrounding the West Village, which is more than 71% white, and applies to live there is at a disadvantage,” the Times writes. “That same New Yorker, might also have trouble in the community district that includes Flushing, Queens, which is more than 57% Asian.”

The city disagrees, however, claiming in court filings that the policy has helped to reduce discrimination across the city.

In a recent decision by presiding Judge Laura Swain, motions by the city were denied to move for summary judgment on certain parts of the case. The judge instead ordered all parties to prepare for a pretrial conference, which is scheduled to take place on September 22.

The judge also noted that while both the plaintiffs and the city have aimed to illustrate their points on the potential impacts of the policy, neither side has succeeded.

“The Court has considered the arguments proffered by both parties carefully, and concludes that neither party has demonstrated that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether the [community preference] policy unlawfully perpetuates segregation,” the judge wrote in an April 28 ruling.

Both parties in the case are directed to indicate whether they plan to proceed to trial by July 31.

The case could have widespread implications on housing policy in New York City, according to the Times. Millions of residents submit applications for consideration in accordance with the community preference policy, and lower-cost homes subsidized by the city are only a portion of available units.

“More broadly, it could force New York City to rethink its approach to development, which relies on fraught negotiations with City Council members who hold enormous sway over each project’s fate,” the Times writes. “The case is also likely to help set a standard for other high-cost cities that are crafting plans to build more housing while fighting displacement.”

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