On March 24, 2016, Frederick K. Brewington of The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, was joined by the plaintiffs; Stanley J. Brown, Esq., Partner, Hogan Lovells US LLP; Stacie B. Burgess of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Lucas Sanchez of New York Communities for Change held a press conference at his law firm to talk about and address issues related to the fact that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently confirmed that the Village of Garden City in Long Island intentionally discriminated against minorities who sought to find housing in the village.
In 2004, Garden City was considering a zoning proposal that would have made affordable housing possible on a Nassau County-owned site that was for sale in the village. However, after opposition at public meetings and other actions demonstrating racially tinged objections to affordable housing, the village rejected the proposal in favor of low-density zoning that favored high-cost single-family homes and townhouses. The district court found that “discrimination played a determinative role” in Garden City’s decision to reject the originally proposed zoning in favor of the low-density zoning, and that minorities in Nassau County “bore the brunt of the negative impacts” of that decision. Arthur Spatt, Justice, U.S. District Court, ordered the plaintiffs to submit a remedial plan to the court, which will serve as a roadmap for Garden City to take affirmative steps to remedy the lingering effects of such discrimination and will prohibit future discrimination.
Exclusionary zoning decisions by white communities like Garden City to block affordable housing that would likely be occupied by minority residents remain one of the most persistent obstacles to open, integrated and fair housing in America today. Cases challenging such decisions are designed to fulfill one of the primary goals of the Fair Housing Act — to replace the residential segregation so widespread in the country “by truly integrated and balanced living patterns.” The district court’s decision today highlights the importance of bringing such cases: while discrimination in the social and economic mainstream of American life remains widespread, it is often masked in more subtle forms. Though overtly bigoted behavior has become more unfashionable, this does not mean that racial discrimination has disappeared.
The lawsuit was filed in 2005 on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case: New York Communities for Change, a not-for-profit membership organization devoted to improving the quality of life for members of low-income communities in New York, and MHANY Management Co., a not-for-profit community-based developer of affordable housing.
On December 6, 2013, Judge Spatt ruled that the Village of Garden City violated the federal Fair Housing Act, the United States Constitution, and other civil rights statutes by enacting a discriminatory zoning ordinance in 2004 for the purpose of keeping minority households out of Garden City. The court found that the village’s action illegally discriminated on the basis of race and national origin against minorities in Nassau County and perpetuated deep-seated segregation, which has allowed Garden City to remain an overwhelmingly white enclave surrounded by predominantly minority neighboring towns.
The defendant Village appealed and, on May 29, 2015, the case was argued in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On March 23, 2016, the Court confirmed that the Village of Garden City intentionally discriminated under the Fair Housing Act when it enacted an exclusionary zoning ordinance in 2004. The appeals court also reversed the lower court’s dismissal of Nassau County, Long Island from the case, ordering that the County must now stand trial for its policy of “steering” affordable housing to census blocks largely populated by African-Americans and Latinos, which the plaintiffs allege is intentionally discriminatory and perpetuates segregation.
Mr. Brewington, who was the Plaintiffs’ Co-counsel, said: “This is a monumental development as we take steps to correct the discriminatory course on which Garden City has chosen to embark. It is unfortunate that even in the face of such a strong factual finding the Village remains in denial. It is this attitude that has led Garden City into a situation that has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars and will subject them to millions in the future. Now Garden City has the chance to end the madness and stop putting up barriers.”
Diane Goins, chairperson of the LI Chapter of New York Communities for Change, stated: “This is history and a long time coming. People need to see what Garden City has been doing for years and years. This is a great beginning and I am excited by this tremendous victory for all people of color and low income communities in Long Island. We are proud to have persevered after such a long fight and believe this victory will be the first of many so that more affordable housing is built in Garden City and Long Island. Communities of color are suffering because of the housing crisis and racism that still exists today.”
Mr. Brown, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, noted: “Local and state governments need to take note of this case, and understand that using restrictive zoning to bar minority residency will not be tolerated. This case exemplifies how housing discrimination and exclusionary zoning practices are being used across the country. It shows how these practices prevent affordable housing that can provide opportunities to all of us, and minorities in particular that have been historically shut out. Hogan Lovells’ pro bono litigation team takes special pride in the opportunity to serve this effort. It has been a long campaign, but a worthy one on behalf of civil rights.”
Co-counsel Joseph Rich, Director of the Fair Housing Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington DC, added: “This is an extremely important case that was brought to break down discriminatory barriers to affordable housing erected by Garden City and to ensure that housing that will promote residential desegregation becomes a reality. The Court’s December decision finding Garden City had intentionally discriminated in violation of the Fair Housing Act and this final order setting forth actions that must be taken by Garden City to remedy this discrimination are very important steps in achieving that goal.”
About The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington:
The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington is a well-respected litigation firm; with an office in Hempstead, Long Island. Our focus is primarily in the area of civil rights, voting rights, employment discrimination, police misconduct, personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death and criminal law. However, the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington is a full service law firm handling matters in numerous areas of law and providing a wide range of services from contract formation to litigation and trial practice. It is the largest African-American-owned law firm on Long Island and has been designated by the New York Law Journal as one of the top minority-owned firms in the state of New York. For more information, call (516) 489-6959.