The Real Deal New York

Supreme Court ruling puts NYC affordable housing plan in peril

Ruling could leave the city policy open to discrimination suits

July 14, 2015 05:45PM


From left: Anthony Kennedy and Kenneth Fisher

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reinterprets the Fair Housing Act could threaten New York City’s longtime practice of building new affordable housing units in low-income and minority neighborhoods.

The high court’s June 25 decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, would require anyone challenging an affordable housing policy as a violation of the Fair Housing Act to prove only that the policy itself is discriminatory, rather than prove it intentionally violated the rights of the people covered under the act.

The ruling could present a major obstacle to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s drive to construct 80,000 new affordable housing units within the next decade, according to experts in housing law, Crain’s reported.

The [de Blasio] administration is definitely going to have to think through the implications of all its housing policies,” Kenneth Fisher, a former City Council member and land-use attorney at Cozen O’Connor, told Crain’s. “They will need to be able to explain to the Department of Justice and [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] why their policies are furthering integration—and not segregation.”

New York City for a long time has concentrated housing subsidies on affordable housing construction in lower-income neighborhoods with large populations of minority residents. Land costs in those areas are substantially lower than in more affluent locales such as Manhattan or Brooklyn, so the subsidies help pay for more housing units.

But the high court’s ruling makes this policy vulnerable to legal challenges under the premise that focusing subsidies on lower-income areas increases economic and racial segregation, even if this is not the policy’s intent. — TRD