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The mission of the Fair Housing & Community Development Project (FHCD) is to fight discrimination in housing through enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and to promote greater opportunity for low-income people of color by utilizing a number of legal and community-based strategies. In addition to impact litigation, the FHCD team consults with local jurisdictions to evaluate and recommend fair housing strategies, provides legal support for housing justice organizations, and advocates for the promulgation and enforcement of Housing and Urban Development rules to ensure equitable access to crucial resources and meaningful housing choices for racial minorities.

 

Litigation
 
Case: Center for Leadership and Justice et. al vs. US Department of Housing & Urban Development

On Nov. 18, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel the Open Communities Alliance, Covington & Burlington LLP and the Yale Law School Clinical program, filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), claiming HUD has perpetuated segregation in the north end of Hartford, Connecticut. The case is currently before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.

From 2017 through 2019, tenants at three buildings that HUD had been subsidizing for years in North Hartford drew attention to conditions that were inhumane and inhospitable. HUD terminated the contracts, and the families living in these buildings were given vouchers to move. They were also entitled to mobility counseling, and hoped they would be able to move to a higher opportunity areas to break the cycle of segregation and lack of access to high-performing schools, good jobs, and a safe and healthy living environment. However, HUD failed to provide these tenants with the mobility counseling they were entitled to, imposed relocation deadlines that were highly unreasonable, and contracted with voucher administrators that effectively kept these families in North Hartford. HUD prioritized relocating people quickly, causing them to move from one low-opportunity area to another or to not even leave the neighborhood at all.

Read the lawsuit here.

Read the press release here.

 

 

Case: Open Communities Alliance vs. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

On Oct. 22, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Connecticut, Poverty & Race Research Action Council and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLL, filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, challenging the 2020 Disparate Impact rule. The lawsuit argues that the new rule makes it virtually impossible for victims of discrimination to prevail when they challenge policies that perpetuate housing segregation. The case is currently before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.

The lawsuit claims that the new rule will eviscerate the Fair Housing Act’s standards for discriminatory effects claims, closing off HUD’s administrative enforcement process and potentially the courthouse doors to victims of discrimination. The Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects framework prohibits policies and practices that perpetuate housing segregation, or disproportionately harm individuals on the basis of protected characteristics. The ability to challenge exclusionary policies has been critical to rooting out systemic housing discrimination. Under the new 2020 rule, plaintiffs or complainants filing administratively with HUD would have to gather an excessive amount of evidence to prove their claims and would have to preemptively anticipate and rebut the justifications used by defendants, ensuring that perpetrators would almost never be penalized for discrimination.

Read the lawsuit here.

Read the press release here.

 

 

Case: Bryant v. City of Norfolk

On Jan. 13, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel Hogan Lovells LLP and the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, filed a lawsuit against the city of Norfolk, Virginia and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority for perpetuating racial segregation in the city. The case is currently before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The city of Norfolk has created a redevelopment plan that will illegally force residents into one singular, concentrated part of the city, or require them to move out of Norfolk altogether. In addition, the plan fails to provide a sufficient number of affordable housing units once the area has been redeveloped. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given approval and helped to finance this plan, but has not required the city of Norfolk to change any part of their redevelopment strategy to ensure Black residents do not suffer racial discrimination.

Read the lawsuit here.

Read the press release here.

 

 

Case: Long Island Housing Services vs. NPS Holiday Square LLC

On March 22, 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Long Island Housing Services filed a lawsuit against NPS Property Corporation, for intentionally discriminating against Black Americans, individuals with disabilities, and those on public sources of income. The case is currently before

the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The lawsuit alleges that NPS Property Corporation, which owns nine apartment complexes in Suffolk County, New York, limited the availability of apartments to Black renters, renters with disabilities, and renters with public sources of income. Long Island Housing Services, a plaintiff in the case, sent in “testers” to observe the conduct of landlords, real estate agents, and property managers. These ‘testers’ were people posing as prospective renters, and found that the rights of people in Suffolk County to equal housing opportunities and racially integrated housing were being interfered with. In addition, NPS’s discriminatory policy of determining the eligibility of tenants with housing subsidies based on the ratio of their income to the full rent for an apartment instead of in relation to the portion of the rent for which they are responsible violates the Fair Housing Act, the New York Human Rights Law, the Suffolk County Human Rights Law and the Suffolk County Code.

Read the lawsuit here.

 

 

Case: Friends and residents of Greater Gowanus vs. City of New York

On Jan. 26, 2021, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed an amicus brief on behalf of three Brooklyn-based nonprofits to support equitable rezoning and the development of affordable housing in the Gowanus neighborhood of New York City. The rezoning would benefit Black and Latinx residents, as Gowanus is a predominantly white, thriving, and high-opportunity area.

Opponents of the rezoning have filed a lawsuit against the City, claiming that it has an obligation hold in-person public hearings and cannot move forward until this has happened. However, because of restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19, this is not possible. Our amicus brief argues that the city should be allowed to proceed with virtual hearings and that rezoning is essential to New York City’s efforts to comply with the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing.

Read the brief.

Read the blog post.

 

Case: Noel vs. City of New York

On Dec. 7, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel Gilbert LLP filed an amicus brief against the city of New York for actively perpetuating segregation. The brief was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and supports the plaintiffs in Noel vs. City of New York.

New York City already has a discriminatory housing system, which requires that 50% of subsidized housing units in a community must be set aside for people who already live there, insulating affluent white neighborhoods from residential integration. The city is also relying on the Trump administrations’ regressive 2020 Disparate Impact rule to justify its’ discriminatory policy, which undermines the ability of victims of discrimination to prevail when they challenge policies that perpetuate housing segregation.

Read the brief here.

Read the press release here.

Litigation
 
Case: Center for Leadership and Justice et. al vs. US Department of Housing & Urban Development

On Nov. 18, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel the Open Communities Alliance, Covington & Burlington LLP and the Yale Law School Clinical program, filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), claiming HUD has perpetuated segregation in the north end of Hartford, Connecticut. The case is currently before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.

From 2017 through 2019, tenants at three buildings that HUD had been subsidizing for years in North Hartford drew attention to conditions that were inhumane and inhospitable. HUD terminated the contracts, and the families living in these buildings were given vouchers to move. They were also entitled to mobility counseling, and hoped they would be able to move to a higher opportunity areas to break the cycle of segregation and lack of access to high-performing schools, good jobs, and a safe and healthy living environment. However, HUD failed to provide these tenants with the mobility counseling they were entitled to, imposed relocation deadlines that were highly unreasonable, and contracted with voucher administrators that effectively kept these families in North Hartford. HUD prioritized relocating people quickly, causing them to move from one low-opportunity area to another or to not even leave the neighborhood at all.

Read the lawsuit here.

Read the press release here.

 

 

Case: Open Communities Alliance vs. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

On Oct. 22, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Connecticut, Poverty & Race Research Action Council and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLL, filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, challenging the 2020 Disparate Impact rule. The lawsuit argues that the new rule makes it virtually impossible for victims of discrimination to prevail when they challenge policies that perpetuate housing segregation. The case is currently before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.

The lawsuit claims that the new rule will eviscerate the Fair Housing Act’s standards for discriminatory effects claims, closing off HUD’s administrative enforcement process and potentially the courthouse doors to victims of discrimination. The Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects framework prohibits policies and practices that perpetuate housing segregation, or disproportionately harm individuals on the basis of protected characteristics. The ability to challenge exclusionary policies has been critical to rooting out systemic housing discrimination. Under the new 2020 rule, plaintiffs or complainants filing administratively with HUD would have to gather an excessive amount of evidence to prove their claims and would have to preemptively anticipate and rebut the justifications used by defendants, ensuring that perpetrators would almost never be penalized for discrimination.

Read the lawsuit here.

Read the press release here.

 

 

Case: Bryant v. City of Norfolk

On Jan. 13, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel Hogan Lovells LLP and the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, filed a lawsuit against the city of Norfolk, Virginia and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority for perpetuating racial segregation in the city. The case is currently before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The city of Norfolk has created a redevelopment plan that will illegally force residents into one singular, concentrated part of the city, or require them to move out of Norfolk altogether. In addition, the plan fails to provide a sufficient number of affordable housing units once the area has been redeveloped. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given approval and helped to finance this plan, but has not required the city of Norfolk to change any part of their redevelopment strategy to ensure Black residents do not suffer racial discrimination.

Read the lawsuit here.

Read the press release here.

 

 

Case: Long Island Housing Services vs. NPS Holiday Square LLC

On March 22, 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Long Island Housing Services filed a lawsuit against NPS Property Corporation, for intentionally discriminating against Black Americans, individuals with disabilities, and those on public sources of income. The case is currently before

the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The lawsuit alleges that NPS Property Corporation, which owns nine apartment complexes in Suffolk County, New York, limited the availability of apartments to Black renters, renters with disabilities, and renters with public sources of income. Long Island Housing Services, a plaintiff in the case, sent in “testers” to observe the conduct of landlords, real estate agents, and property managers. These ‘testers’ were people posing as prospective renters, and found that the rights of people in Suffolk County to equal housing opportunities and racially integrated housing were being interfered with. In addition, NPS’s discriminatory policy of determining the eligibility of tenants with housing subsidies based on the ratio of their income to the full rent for an apartment instead of in relation to the portion of the rent for which they are responsible violates the Fair Housing Act, the New York Human Rights Law, the Suffolk County Human Rights Law and the Suffolk County Code.

Read the lawsuit here.

 

Case: Friends and residents of Greater Gowanus vs. City of New York

On Jan. 26, 2021, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed an amicus brief on behalf of three Brooklyn-based nonprofits to support equitable rezoning and the development of affordable housing in the Gowanus neighborhood of New York City. The rezoning would benefit Black and Latinx residents, as Gowanus is a predominantly white, thriving, and high-opportunity area.

Opponents of the rezoning have filed a lawsuit against the City, claiming that it has an obligation hold in-person public hearings and cannot move forward until this has happened. However, because of restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19, this is not possible. Our amicus brief argues that the city should be allowed to proceed with virtual hearings and that rezoning is essential to New York City’s efforts to comply with the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing.

Read the brief.

Read the blog post.

 

 

Case: Noel vs. City of New York

On Dec. 7, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside co-counsel Gilbert LLP filed an amicus brief against the city of New York for actively perpetuating segregation. The brief was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and supports the plaintiffs in Noel vs. City of New York.

New York City already has a discriminatory housing system, which requires that 50% of subsidized housing units in a community must be set aside for people who already live there, insulating affluent white neighborhoods from residential integration. The city is also relying on the Trump administrations’ regressive 2020 Disparate Impact rule to justify its’ discriminatory policy, which undermines the ability of victims of discrimination to prevail when they challenge policies that perpetuate housing segregation.

Read the brief here.

Read the press release here.

Advocacy and policy

 

The National Anti-Eviction Project

In response to Congress’ failure to extend the eviction mortarium, we launched the National Anti-Eviction Project to provide direct legal representation to tenants facing eviction as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. We are working with local partners and recruiting pro-bono lawyers and law students to represent tenants in court and advocate for systemic changes to improve outcomes for tenants.

The Project has sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, Baltimore, Maryland and New Orleans, Louisiana. Read the full story here.

 

“Do we Need Evictions? Transformative Housing Justice Organizing in a Pandemic”

On Jan. 28, 2021,  Sarah Carthen Watson, associate counsel in the Fair Housing and Community Development Project spoke on a panel during the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center’s annual housing conference, ‘Fit For a King.’ The panel covered the ways COVID-19 has shifted national and organizational thinking around evictions, the link between evictions and public health disparities and policy solutions to keep families in their homes.

View the panel here.

 

Letter to HUD About Increasing Payment Standards

On Jan. 6, 2020, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and eight other housing justice organizations sent a letter to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, urging HUD to allow public housing authorities to adjust and enhance payment standards.

In the letter, the groups explain that public housing authorities need the flexibility to respond to increases in housing costs in higher opportunity communities, without the need to submit a rent study to HUD for approval. Oftentimes, current housing market trends may not be reflected in HUD’s internal documents, and rent studies take a significant amount of time to prepare, and even longer to receive HUD approval.

This causes an issue, as public housing authorities who are trying to expand housing opportunities to families with vouchers, are not able to give them the adequate financial resources to move to a higher opportunity area. In addition, the current method of calculation for payments does not include the effect of gentrification on cost of living.

The letter also advocates for:

  • Increasing payment standards for low-poverty neighborhoods;
  • Abolishing the “upper-limit” threshold on those who are seeking an exception to their payment standard; and
  • Creating and instituting a poverty threshold to avoid increasing voucher concentrations in high poverty areas.

 

Read the full letter here.

Consulting

 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law works with cities, counties, regions, and states across the country to produce analysis of impediments to fair housing choice (AI)/ assessment of fair housing (AFH) in their communities. Using data from the Census bureau, planning documents and ordinances, and data reflecting housing discrimination complaints, these analyses are a thorough examination of structural barriers to fair housing choice and access to opportunity for historically marginalized groups. In addition, they outline a set of priorities and meaningful strategies that can be implemented to overcome fair housing issues.

Proposed goals and strategies recommended by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law include incentivizing affordable housing in high opportunity areas, enforcing fair housing laws, enhancing public transportation options, and promoting zoning reforms to increase affordable housing.

View the analysis for:

Fall River, Massachusetts

Ontario, California

Orange County, California

Santa Monica, California

Taunton, Massachusetts

Twin Cities, Minnesota

Publications & Resources
Three Strategies to Combat the Joint Legacy of Racial Segregation and Police Brutality in Public Housing

Sarah Carthen Watson, associate counsel on our Fair Housing & Community Development Project, published an article with the Urban Policy Institute about how housing policy has contributed to police brutality in and around public housing.

Past and present housing policies trap many low-income residents – which are disproportionately people of color – in low opportunity, high poverty communities. It is these same communities that are likely to be overpoliced, and where police tactics occur that functionally bypass the fourth amendment.

To remedy these inequities and secure housing justice, Carthen Watson advocates for reinstating fourth amendment protections for people living in public housing, abolishing antiloitering laws and nuisance ordinances that condemn people for existing in their own homes, and harnessing the full potential of the Fair Housing Act to challenge overpolicing and the accompanying effects.

Read the full article here.

Annie Chen and Megan Russo, two former interns with the Lawyers’ Committee Fair Housing and Community Development project, also contributed to this article.

 

 

“Why Does No One Like Me? An Inside Look at the Lawsuits Challenging HUD’s 2020 Disparate Impact Rule”

 On Jan. 7 2021, Thomas Silverstein, counsel on our Fair Housing and Community Development project, participated in an American Bar Association webinar on litigation challenges to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 Disparate Impact Rule. Silverstein covered four key areas:

  • How the 2020 disparate impact rule would eliminate the “perpetuation of segregation” theory of liability;
  • A description of how civil rights groups mobilized to submit public comments in opposition to the rule;
  • Steps the Biden administration can take to advance fair housing; and
  • An overview of Open Communities Alliance v. Carson, our case challenging the disparate impact rule.

 

View the webinar here.