Legal Aid, Mayer Brown and FHJC Fight Source of Income Discrimination, Denying Low Income New Yorkers Permanent Housing

The Legal Aid Society and co-counsel Mayer Brown LLP filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court charging Starrett City, Inc., and Grenadier Realty with source of income discrimination for unlawfully denying low-income New Yorkers permanent housing.

Plaintiffs Regina Alston and Sandra Vaughn-Cooke were denied an opportunity for housing because of Starrett City's unlawful practice of refusing to rent housing to applicants whose source of income to pay the monthly rent is the Living in Communities (LINC) Rental Assistance Program. The LINC program was created by the Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) in a joint effort with the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services in order to implement Mayor de Blasio's initiative of moving homeless families from shelters into housing. Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people have equal access to housing opportunities in New York City, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

HRA Commissioner Steven Banks said, "Families whose rent is paid with government assistance have the same right to rent an apartment as everyone else. City government will take action whenever discrimination by landlords is reported to us and we thank The Legal Aid Society, Mayer Brown and the Fair Housing Justice Center for bringing a lawsuit in this case."

On August 28, Justice Jaffe granted plaintiffs’ request for a TRO by ordering Starrett City to put Ms. Vaughn-Cooke on the wait list for Starrett City in the position she would have been had Starrett City not discriminated against her.

The apartment complex, known as Spring Creek Towers at 1255 Pennsylvania Avenue, Brooklyn, denied the requests of Ms. Alston and Ms. Vaughn-Cooke to rent apartments because Starrett City does not accept LINC vouchers. They were referred to FHJC. The organization investigated and was told that Starrett does not accept LINC vouchers.

"Even without discrimination, low-income and homeless New Yorkers struggle to find permanent housing," said Mayer Brown partner Mark Hanchet. "When they face the additional burden of discrimination due to their participation in the LINC program, the odds become insurmountable. We look forward to the opportunity to help our clients find decent housing and build productive, fulfilling lives."

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg commented, "The housing choices available to lower income households with rental subsidies are severely constrained by widespread source of income discrimination. Housing discrimination forces many subsidy holders through an invisible poor door back to high poverty neighborhoods that are often unsafe or unhealthy places to live, areas with few amenities, substandard housing, and/or poor performing schools." Freiberg urged more vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws and added, "The City agencies providing these subsidies and their non-profit partners have a duty to locate housing options that improve the quality of life for subsidy holders, break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, and reduce residential segregation."

"We cannot solve New York City's homelessness crisis if landlords do not comply with the fair housing laws, which clearly ban discrimination on the basis of income," said Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society. " The City is paying to shelter people who want to move out but cannot because landlords like Starrett City are illegally refusing to rent to them. This lawsuit against the Defendants' discriminatory, illegal practices represents a commitment to the firm belief that all New Yorkers deserve a fair chance at safe and secure housing."

The discriminatory actions of Starrett City, Inc. violate the New York City Administrative Code which prohibits owners from discriminating against anyone looking to rent or purchase real estate based on the individual's lawful source of income. The lawsuit points out that the LINC Program also serves taxpayers by moving residents out of publicly funded shelters into permanent housing.

The lawsuit charges that the plaintiffs have suffered damages based on the discriminatory actions of Starrett City. Ms. Alston and her two children were forced to remain in a crowded, unsanitary shelter at government expense and later moved into public housing. Ms. Vaughn-Cooke has been forced to remain in a crowded, unsanitary shelter at government expense. FHJC has been forced to divert its limited resources into identifying and counteracting Starrett's unlawful housing practices.

The plaintiffs seek a Court order declaring the defendant's discriminatory practices violate the New York City Administrative Code and enjoining the defendant from denying housing based on lawful source of income. The lawsuit also seeks to have the applications of the plaintiffs re-evaluated.

Attorneys handling the case for The Legal Aid Society, in addition to Ms.Goldiner, include Joshua Goldfein, Robert Desir, and Beth Hofmeister, Staff Attorneys in the Civil Law Reform Unit. Lawyers handling the case for Mayer Brown, in addition to Mr. Hanchet, include Jason I. Kirschner, Joaquin M.C de Baca, Noah Liben, James C. duPoint, and Kevin C. Kelly.

Brooklyn landlord sued for allegedly refusing to let low-income people rent apartments using city’s subsidy program
By Barbara Ross
New York Daily News
August 31, 2015

A homeless woman and a couple with two children are suing the owners of Spring Creek Towers in Brooklyn for refusing to let them rent apartments that would be paid for in part by the city's new housing subsidy program for the poor.

Regina Alston and Sandra Vaughn-Cooke contend in papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court that the landlord of the 153 acre complex, known as Starrett City, broke the law by discriminating against them on the basis of their incomes.

Judith Goldiner, the Legal Aid Society supervisor spearheading the suit with the private law firm, Mayer Brown, said the litigation is designed to get landlords to "open their doors" to the LINC (Living in Communities ) Rental Assistance Program.

Under LINC, qualified tenants pay 30% of their income toward the rent and the city pays the rest.

Alston, a school bus attendant, says in the suit that she was living in a Brooklyn shelter with her partner and two children when she got a LINC voucher and tried last February to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Spring Creek for $1,390. The rental office staff said the landlord was not accepting LINC.

She is now living in a city project, where she says her family is frightened regularly by the sound of gunshots near and in their complex.