Federal Court Holds That Garden City, New York Zoning Decision Had Unjustified Disparate Impact on African-Americans and Latinos

Pressure Builds for the Village of Garden City to Embrace Diversity and Inclusion
September 26, 2017

HEMPSTEAD & WASHINGTON, D.C. — A press conference was held on Tuesday, September 26 in the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington-556 Peninsula Blvd., Hempstead, to discuss this recent development. On last Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York recognized that a 2004 zoning decision by the Village of Garden City had an unjustified disparate impact on African-Americans and Latinos in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The court’s decision in the case, Mhany Management Inc. v. Village of Garden City, comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, in 2016, the District Court’s 2013 holding that Garden City engaged in intentional racial discrimination through its zoning decision, and that the plaintiffs (Mhany Management Inc. and New York Communities for Change) had shown that the decision had an unjustified disproportionate adverse effect on African-Americans and Latinos. The Second Circuit, however, held that, in light of a new federal regulation, the District Court needed to reevaluate whether the plaintiffs had shown that Garden City’s interests in preventing school overcrowding and vehicular traffic could be served by a less discriminatory alternative zoning classification. With Wednesday’s ruling, Senior Judge Arthur Spatt has held that the plaintiffs have successfully made that showing.

“The Fair Housing Act enshrined the promise of open communities in federal law,” said Joe Rich, co-director of the Fair Housing & Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law who, along with co-counsel from the law firm of Hogan Lovells LLP and the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, represented the plaintiffs in this case. “The court’s decision reiterates that the Village of Garden City’s exclusionary practices are unacceptable in American society.”

This case grew out of the Village of Garden City’s 2004 decision to apply R-T zoning, rather than higher density R-M, to a parcel owned by Nassau County that the County planned to sell. Under R-M zoning, it would have been possible to develop affordable housing at the site, which would not have been feasible under R-T zoning. A consultant for the Village of Garden City recommended the R-M zoning classification, but the Village adopted the exclusionary R-T zoning after significant racially motivated opposition to R-M zoning emerged among Village residents. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit argued that the decision was both “intentionally racially discriminatory” and that it had an “unjustified disparate impact.”

“For far too long, Garden City has ducked and dodged in its attempts to avoid the inevitable conclusion that the Village engaged in unlawful discrimination,” said Stanley J. Brown, Of Counsel at the law firm of Hogan Lovells LLP and a member of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Board of Directors. “They have fought at every step of the way and there is still no affordable housing in Garden City despite the fact that four federal judges have found that the Village discriminated. The time has come for the Village to move forward in a collaborative spirit and embrace inclusion and diversity rather than waste more taxpayer money in a battle that brings disrepute on the Village.”

The Village remains subject to a remedial order that the district court entered in 2014. That order required Garden City to adopt and implement an inclusionary zoning ordinance that mandates that 10% of units in new developments of five units or more be affordable to low-income households. Additionally, Garden City was ordered to join the Nassau Urban County Consortium, which disburses U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds in Nassau County, and to participate in the Consortium in good faith. In order to participate in the Consortium in good faith, Garden City must promote integrated housing to meet its duty under the Fair Housing Act to affirmatively further fair housing.

Mary Crosson, Chair of Long Island Chapter New York Communities for Change and Hempstead School Board Trustee, said: “We have been fighting segregation in Garden City for an awful long time. We are happy that the court has supported our struggle against segregation in Garden City and on Long Island. This is another step forward and we are hopeful that Garden City will one day welcome African-Americans as neighbors.”

“It’s past time for Garden City to stop creating barriers for Black and Brown people who have simply sought to live and settle their families in this community of their choice,” said co-counsel for the Plaintiffs Frederick K. Brewington of the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington. “Garden City needs to stop denying that it violated people’s rights and is being called into account to comply with the letter and the spirit of the Fair Housing Act and the clear dictate of the Federal Court so that people of color can be afforded a chance to reside in Garden City and experience all that this Village has to offer.”