Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 23, 2012

Fed. Dist. Court in New Jersey Examines Racial Bias and Affordable Housing and Allows Claims to Proceed

The plaintiffs, Greenways of Franklin are real estate developers who own property in the Franklin Township.  Greenways sought to develop their land by building affordable housing in the township.  The proposal was meant to promote Council On Affordable Housing (COAH) regulations requiring New Jersey municipalities to allow development of affordable housing.  Greenways brought a state court action seeking to force the Township to fulfill its COAH obligations and allow the suggested development.  

In this action, Greenways was joined by plaintiffs Marion Torres and Jaime Torres, minorities wishing to move into the Township but who cannot afford the housing.  Plaintiffs assert that the Township has refused to allow the proposed development because of racial and anti-semetic  discrimination.  The Township moved for summary judgment. 

Plaintiffs presented affidavits and depositions of people who heard two separate mayors using racial slurs.  One mayor, who also served on the planning board, was alleged to have used derogatory language regarding minorities, specifically African Americans with respect to affordable housing.  Multiple witnesses heard the mayor making comments regarding affordable housing and minorities on various occasions.  The second mayor was also heard making discriminatory, specifically anti-semetic, comments on multiple occasions.  The court found that these sworn statements establish a prima facie case that the Township’s actions were intentionally discriminatory.  

Despite defendants arguments, the court explained that discriminatory intent or impact claims are ripe even where an approval from a local land use board has not been sought.  Second, the court found that the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties because they either have been or are going to be injured despite not having actually applied for housing.  Finally, the court found that the Fair Housing Act may apply despite the lack of disparate impact because an FHA violation may be based on discriminatory intent. 

Therefore, the court holds that the plaintiffs  presented sufficient evidence of a racial animus by members of the board to survive a motion to dismiss. 

Torres v. Franklin Township, 2011 WL 6779596 (D. N.J. 12/ 22/2011) 

The opinion can be accessed at: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16883637814766017233&q=torres+v.+franklin+township&hl=en&as_sdt=2,33

 


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