United States District Court Rules that Village of Garden City Violated the Fair Housing Act by Intentionally Discriminating Against Minorities

December 6, 2013

In a long-awaited and historic decision, Federal District Judge Arthur Spatt ruled today that the Village of Garden City in Long Island, New York 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, Long Island and perpetuated deep-seated segregation, which has allowed Garden City to remain an overwhelmingly white enclave surrounded by predominantly minority neighboring towns.

The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2005 and brought to trial this past summer, are the 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.

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. Judge Spatt 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.

Diane Goins, chairperson of the Long Island Chapter of New York Communities for Change, stated: “It is outrageous that in 2013, it took a lawsuit to expose Garden City’s blatant and illegal policies of housing discrimination. Today we made a very important, long overdue step in the right direction. Listen up, Long Island — NYCC members have had enough — enough discrimination, enough hiding behind excuses. Any municipality that thinks they can get away with housing discrimination in 2013 needs to be clear, that NYCC members won’t stop fighting for fairness until housing discrimination is a thing of the past.”

Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director of the Mutual Housing Association of New York, stated: “I’m thrilled that, at long last, justice has been served in Garden City. In Garden City like too many other cities in New York, working families of color are unfairly excluded from finding a safe and affordable place to live and it’s sad that in Garden City it’s taken a years-long legal battle to force them to stop. The mission of Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) is to create safe affordable housing for low income families throughout New York State. We look forward to working with, rather than against, Garden City to create inclusive, quality housing for a diverse range of residents and we hope that this case becomes an example to anyone who wishes to keep working families out of their communities.”

Stanley Brown, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and a partner at Hogan Lovells US LLP in New York City, 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. The Hogan Lovells trial team is proud to have participated in this important pro bono litigation. It has been a long, eight-year fight and we are honored to have helped secure a groundbreaking victory for civil rights. 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.”

Co- Counsel Fred Brewington, who heads the Law Offices of Fred Brewington in Hempstead, New York, said: “After years of asking Garden City to open its doors to affordable housing, it is unfortunate that it took a Court decision to force them to realize that everyone should have a chance to live and be educated in Garden City. This is a landmark decision that sends a clear and strong message that discrimination, no matter how you try to mask it will be rooted out and challenged. This is a victory for all of Long Island and indeed for America.”

Co-Counsel Joseph Rich, Director of the Fair Housing Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, DC, added: “Today’s decision is a major victory for fair housing on Long Island. It sends a strong message that discriminatory exclusionary zoning decisions will not be tolerated and will help promote residential desegregation, the primary goal of the Fair Housing Act.”