A federal lawsuit filed yesterday seeks to end the city’s practice of giving residents of local communities a preference in affordable apartment lotteries. The suit was brought on behalf of three black residents in Manhattan and claims that the policy perpetuates racial segregation.
While the three cases involved applications for affordable housing elsewhere in the borough, the case could have an impact on the Lower East Side. As you might be aware, the big Essex Crossing project on the former Seward Park urban renewal site includes 500 low- and middle-income apartments. Residents of Community District 3 (Lower East Side, East Village, Chinatown) who meet specific income requirements will receive a preference for 50% of those units.
The group pursuing the federal case, the Anti-Discrimination Center, argues that local preferences serve to keep ethnic minorities out of mostly white neighborhoods in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The organization highlighted the small number of African American residents living in many of the city’s community districts.
On the Lower East Side, the Seward Park site languished for more than 40 years, as neighborhood groups fought over the need for new affordable housing. Racial politics was always a major part of the contentious debate. Many low-income families, predominantly Latino, were displaced when the urban renewal site was bulldozed in 1967. When the community finally came together on a compromise plan several years ago, housing for both those displaced and for other local residents was a big priority. The city agreed to a preference for former site tenants, as well as a community preference. In spite of the pressures of gentrification, the LES remains a diverse community. According to Census data, Community District 3 is 32% white, 34% Asian, 25% Latino but just 7% black.
The New York Times asked city officials to respond to the allegations in the lawsuit, but the Department of Housing Preservation and Development declined, citing the pending legal case.