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Branch v. Town of Huntington

decided: April 5, 1988.

HUNTINGTON BRANCH, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, HOUSING HELP, INC., MABEL HARRIS, PERREPPER CRUTCHFIELD AND KENNETH L. COFIELD, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, NEW YORK, KENNETH C. BUTTERFIELD, CLAIR KROFT, KENNETH DEEGAN, EDWARD THOMPSON AND JOSEPH CLEMENTE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Glasser, J.), following a bench trial, holding that Huntington did not violate Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631 (1982 & Supp. III 1985), by restricting private construction of multi-family housing units to a narrow urban renewal area and by refusing to amend the zoning code to permit multi-family housing outside the urban renewal area.

Kaufman, Oakes, and Newman, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kaufman

KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge:

Twenty years ago, widespread racial segregation threatened to rip civil society asunder. In response, Congress adopted broad remedial provisions to promote integration. One such statute, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631 (1982 & Supp. III 1985) ("Fair Housing Act"), was enacted "to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States." 42 U.S.C. § 3601. Today, we are called upon to decide whether an overwhelmingly white suburb's zoning regulation, which restricts private multi-family housing projects to a largely minority "urban renewal area," and the Town Board's refusal to amend that ordinance to allow construction of subsidized housing in a white neighborhood violates the Fair Housing Act.

The Huntington Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Housing Help, Inc. (HHI), and two black, low-income residents of Huntington appeal from an adverse judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Glasser, J.), following a bench trial, in their suit against the Town of Huntington (the Town) and members of its Town Board. Appellants allege that the Town violated Title VIII by restricting private construction of multi-family housing to a narrow urban renewal area and by refusing to rezone the parcel outside this area where appellants wished to build multi-family housing.*fn1 Specifically, appellants sought to construct an integrated, multi-family subsidized apartment complex in Greenlawn/East Northport, a virtually all-white neighborhood. The Town's zoning ordinance, however, prohibited private construction of multi-family housing outside a small urban renewal zone in the Huntington Station neighborhood, which is 52% minority. Thus, appellants petitioned the Town to revise its code to accommodate the project. When the Town refused, appellants brought this class-action*fn2 to compel the change under Title VIII.

This dispute has been before this court before, in response to a district court determination that appellants lacked standing to bring their complaint. Huntington Branch NAACP v. Town of Huntington, 530 F. Supp. 838 (E.D.N.Y. 1981). We reversed, holding that standing could not be denied because of the lack of United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 funds in a particular year. Huntington Branch NAACP v. Town of Huntington (Huntington I), 689 F.2d 391 (2d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1069, 75 L. Ed. 2d 947, 103 S. Ct. 1523 (1983).*fn3 In so doing, we expressly held that, contrary to the Town's assertion, appellants were not required to exhaust local remedies by filing a formal application for rezoning. Huntington I, 689 F.2d at 393 n.3.

In the case currently appealed, Huntington Branch NAACP v. Huntington, 668 F. Supp. 762 (E.D.N.Y. 1987), the district court refused to invalidate the zoning restriction. The district judge, however, incorrectly employed an intent-based standard for the disparate impact claim asserted here both in analyzing the showing of effect and in scrutinizing the validity of the Town's reasons for rejection. Accordingly, we reverse and, finding a Title VIII violation, grant appellants' request for site-specific relief. Although prior opinions exhaustively document the facts, a brief statement of the pertinent points will aid in the understanding of this case.

Huntington is a town of approximately 200,000 people located in the northwest corner of Suffolk County, New York. In 1980, 95% of its residents were white. Blacks comprised only 3.35% of the Town's population and were concentrated in areas known as Huntington Station and South Greenlawn. Specifically, 43% of the total black population lived in four census tracts in Huntington Station and 27% in two census tracts in the South Greenlawn area. Outside these two neighborhoods, the Town's population was overwhelmingly white. Of the 48 census tracts in the Town in 1980, 30 contained black populations of less than 1%.

The district court found that the Town has a shortage of affordable rental housing for low and moderate-income households. The Town's Housing Assistance Plan (HAP), which is adopted by the Town Board and filed with HUD as part of Huntington's application for federal community development funds, reveals that the impact of this shortage is three times greater on blacks than on the overall population. Under the 1982-1985 HAP, for example, 7% of all Huntington families required subsidized housing, while 24% of black families needed such housing.

In addition, a disproportionately large percentage of families in existing subsidized projects are minority. In Gateway Gardens, a public housing project built in 1967, 38 of 40 units were occupied by blacks and Hispanics in 1984. Seventy-four percent of those on the project's waiting list were minority. In Whitman Village, a 260-unit HUD subsidized development built in 1971, 56% of the families were minority in 1984. Lincoln Manor, which was built in 1980, is a 30-unit HUD Section 8 project. Thirty percent of the households and 45% of those on the waiting list were minority in 1984. Under a HUD Section 8 program, lower income families can obtain certificates to supplement their rent. Each family, however, must locate its own apartment. In January 1984, 68% of families holding certificates and 61% of those on the waiting list were minority.

Although a disproportionate number of minorities need low-cost housing, the Town has attempted to limit minority occupancy in subsidized housing projects. Michael Miness, the Director of Huntington's Community Development agency and responsible for developing the Town's low-cost housing, and Angela Sutton, Executive Director of the Huntington Housing Authority, repeatedly told whites opposing the Lincoln Manor project that they would impose a racial quota on occupancy. When HUD reviewed the project's management plan which established 5% minority occupancy, however, it advised the Huntington Housing Authority that it would not permit a racial quota at Lincoln Manor. The Town similarly attempted to impose racial quotas on occupancy at a proposed 150-unit subsidized housing project in Huntington Station on the Melville Industrial Associates (MIA) site. When Alan H. Wiener, HUD's Area Director, wrote Kenneth C. Butterfield, Town Supervisor, that "limitations on minority occupancy of housing on the Huntington Station site are not justifiable and will not be permitted," (Letter of June 19, 1981, E-18), the Town Board unanimously passed a resolution withdrawing its support for the project because they could not "ensure a particular ethnic mix." (Huntington Town Board Resolution re: Huntington Station Urban Renewal Project, June 23, 1981, E-17.)

Under the Town's zoning ordinance, multi-family housing is permitted only in an "R-3M Apartment District." The relevant portion of section 198-20(A) provides:

Use regulations. In the R-3M Apartment District, a building or premises shall be used only for the following purposes:

(1) Any use permitted in the R-80, R-15 and R-5 Residence Districts.

(2) Multiple-family dwellings which constitute an approved public housing project to be owned, maintained and operated by the Housing Authority of the Town of Huntington.

(3) Multiple-family dwellings where such dwellings constitute an element in a formally approved land use or a use plan for all or part of an urban renewal area which has been designated as such under the provisions of Article 15 of the General Municipal Law.

On its face, then, this provision limits private construction of multi-family housing to the Town's urban renewal area, where 52% of the residents are minority.*fn4 It does permit the Huntington Housing Authority (HHA) to build multi-family housing townwide. But HHA's only project, Gateway Gardens, is in the urban renewal zone. The private housing projects are also in or nearby the urban renewal area. Whitman Village is adjacent to Gateway Gardens in census blocks that are over 40% minority. Lincoln Manor, only a few blocks from the projects in the urban renewal area, is also in a racially impacted census block.

The Town's zoning ordinance also includes a special category for multi-family housing for senior citizens called "R-RM Retirement Community District." Only one such development -- Paumanack Village -- has been built in Huntington. It is the only multi-family housing for low income people which is situated in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood. The development itself is largely white, having a black occupancy of 3%.

Only one vacant parcel of land in Huntington currently is zoned R-3M and thus would be eligible for the appellants' proposed development: the MIA site, which is at the northeast corner of Broadway and New York Avenue, is partially zoned C-6 and partially zoned R-3M. The Town in 1980 requested pre-approval for 150 units of Section 8 housing on this site.*fn5

In response to the great need for subsidized housing in the Town, HHI decided to sponsor an integrated housing project for low-income families. HHI determined that the project could foster racial integration only if it were located in a white neighborhood outside the Huntington Station and South Greenlawn areas. This decision eliminated consideration of the MIA site, the only vacant R-3M property located in the urban renewal area.

In its effort to create racially integrated, low-cost housing, HHI actively sought the assistance of Town officials. Specifically, HHI's Executive Director, Marianne Garvin, and HHI Board members met repeatedly with Michael Miness. In response to Miness's suggestion that HHI pursue rehabilitating existing structures before focussing on new construction, HHI commissioned a study in 1979 to assess whether any of the vacant schools were suitable for the housing project. After narrowing the possibilities to the Green Meadow School, HHI determined that this location was inappropriate for a low-cost housing development. Throughout 1979, Miness assured HHI representatives that existing zoning should not impede their efforts because the Town Board would amend the zoning ordinance if it supported the organization's project.

After a lengthy search, HHI determined that a 14.8 acre parcel located at the corner of Elwood and Pulaski Roads in the Town was well suited for a 162-unit housing project. This flat, largely cleared and well-drained property was near public transportation, shopping and other services, and immediately adjacent to schools.

Ninety-eight percent of the population within a one-mile radius of the site is white. HHI set a goal of 25% minority occupants. The district court found that "a significant percentage of the tenants [at Matinecock Court] would have belonged to minority groups." Huntington, 668 F. Supp. at 785. HHI officials determined that the property was economically feasible and offered a lengthy option period.

Prior to purchasing the option for the property, Garvin asked Miness to visit the property and evaluate it. Garvin testified that, although Miness told Garvin he would not give an opinion before HHI secured an option, he assured her that the property's R-40 designation (single family homes on one-acre lots) should not be an obstacle ...


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