WEXLER, District Judge
Pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. ("FHA"), Oxford House, Inc. ("Oxford House") and Gary and Geri Erichson ("the Erichsons"), plaintiffs in the above referenced action, seek to enjoin the Town of Babylon ("Town" or "defendant") from evicting persons with handicaps (also referred to as "plaintiffs") from their residence at 73 East Walnut Avenue, East Farmingdale, New York.
Now before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that the Town violated the Fair Housing Act because its proposed eviction of plaintiffs has a disparate impact on persons with handicaps; or, in the alternative, because the Town failed to make reasonable accommodations in its zoning ordinances as may have been necessary to afford plaintiffs an equal opportunity to enjoy housing in the Town. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment is granted.
Oxford House was founded in 1975 by a group of men who were recovering from drug and/or alcohol addiction. Today there are 375 individual "Oxford Houses" which are operated on the same premise as the original. Three basic rules guide the functioning of all Oxford Houses: (1) they must be democratically self-governed; (2) they must be financially self-supporting; and (3) any person using drugs or alcohol must be immediately expelled. There are no health care professionals on the premises, and an individual can stay as long as he wishes so long as he remains drug and alcohol free and pays his share of the expenses.
Expressly based on the Oxford House concept, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. § 300x et seq., mandates that each state establish and implement a revolving fund to foster the creation of self-run, self-supported recovery houses throughout the country. In order to qualify for a loan, applicants must adhere to the three requirements set forth in the Oxford House rules as stated above.
Pursuant to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the State of New York entered into a contract with Oxford House to provide it with a loan fund for the creation of recovery homes in New York. On or about August 30, 1991, Oxford House used $ 4,000 from this fund for the establishment of a home at 73 East Walnut Avenue. East Farmingdale, New York ("East Farmingdale Oxford House"). The house is owned by the Erichsons, and is located in a residential district in the Town, which is zoned for single family dwellings only.
Shortly after the lease was signed, neighbors complained to Town officials that recovering alcoholics were living in their community. On September 3, 1991, a Town meeting was held to discuss the new residents. This was followed by a letter from the Town Attorney to the representatives of Oxford House, alleging that the house in East Farmingdale was in violation of the Multiple Dwelling Code because the residents were not a family.
On or about September 6, 1991, Oxford House requested that the Town make a reasonable accommodation in the application of its zoning ordinance so that the residents could continue living there. The Town has never responded.
On or about September 17, 1991, the Town Board authorized the Town attorney to commence appropriate litigation, including injunctive relief and contempt proceedings, to evict the residents of the East Farmingdale Oxford House. That same day, plaintiffs filed this action to enjoin the Town from carrying out its resolution.
On February 2, 1992, the Town filed suit in state court against plaintiffs seeking to evict the residents of the East Farmingdale Oxford House.
On or about May 12, 1992, the state court action was removed to this Court and consolidated with plaintiffs' action.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affiavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990). All reasonable inferences and ambiguities are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Thompson, 896 F.2d at 720 (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 , 82 S. Ct. 993 (1962) (per curiam)).
B. Overview of the Fair Housing Act
Under the FHA, it is unlawful to discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap. 42 U.S.C. § 3604 (f)(1). A person is handicapped if he or she has a mental or physical impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(h). It is well established that individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction are handicapped under the FHA. United States v. Southern Management Corp., 955 F.2d 914, 917-23 (4th Cir. 1992); Elliott v. City of Athens, 960 F.2d 975, 977 n.2 (11th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 121 L. Ed. 2d 287, 113 S. Ct. 376 (1972); Oxford House, Inc. v. Township of Cherry Hill, 799 F. Supp. 450, 458-60 (D.N.J. 1992); United States v. Borough of Audubon, NJ, 797 F. Supp. 353, 358-59 (D.N.J. 1991). A plaintiff can establish a violation under the FHA by proving the disparate pact of a practice or policy on a particular group,
Huntington Branch, NAACP v. Town of Huntington, 844 F.2d 926, 933 (2d Cir.), aff'd, 488 U.S. 15, 102 L. Ed. 2d 180, 109 S. Ct. 276 (1988), or by showing that the defendant failed to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, or practices so as to afford people with disabilities an equal opportunity to live in a dwelling. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). Once an FHA violation is established, the plaintiff is entitled to injunctive relief. Southern Management Corp., 955 F.2d at 923.
C. Plaintiffs' Claim that the Town's Zoning Ordinance Has a Disparate Impact on People with Handicaps
To establish a prima facie case under the disparate impact analysis, a plaintiff must prove that the challenged practice "actually or predictably" results in discrimination. Huntington Branch, NAACP, 844 F.2d at 933. Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove that "its actions furthered, in theory and in practice, a legitimate, bona fide governmental interest and that no alternative would serve the interest with less discriminatory effect." Id. at 936 (citing Resident Advisory Bd. v. Rizzo, 564 F.2d 126, 148-49 (3d Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 908, 55 L. Ed. 2d 499, 98 S. Ct. 1457, 98 S. Ct. 1458 (1978).
In the end, the court must balance the plaintiff's showing of discriminatory impact against the defendant's justifications for its conduct. Huntington Branch, NAACP, 844 F.2d at 936. When conducting this balance, two factors weigh heavily in the plaintiffs' favor: (1) evidence of discriminatory intent on the part of the defendant; and (2) evidence that the plaintiff is seeking only to require a municipal defendant to eliminate an obstacle to housing rather than suing to compel it to build. Id. (citing Metropolitan Hous. Dev. Corp. v. Arlington Heights, 558 F.2d 1283, 1290 (7th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1025, 54 L. Ed. 2d 772, 98 S. Ct. 752 (1978)).
Plaintiffs in the present case have set forth evidence to establish that the Town's proposed eviction actually or predictably results in discrimination. The Town asserts that the Oxford House facility is not permitted at 73 East Walnut Avenue because the residents are not a "family" or the "functional and factual equivalent of a natural family." Under § 213-1 of the Town Code, a "family" is a group of persons related by "kinship, adoption, blood or marriage." The "functional and factual equivalent of a natural family" is defined as a "single housekeeping unit" bearing the same characteristics as a biological family, including a stable non-transient existence. The Town maintains that because plaintiffs are transients, they do not function as a family unit, and can therefore be evicted pursuant to the Town Code.
Applying § 213-1 of the Town Code to evict plaintiffs would discriminate against them because of their handicap. Recovering alcoholics or drug addicts require a group living arrangement in a residential neighborhood for psychological and emotional support during the recovery process.
As a result, residents of an Oxford House are more likely than those without handicaps to live with unrelated individuals. Moreover, because residents of an Oxford House may leave at any time due to relapse or any other reason, they cannot predict the length of their stay. Therefore, a finding of a violation of the Town Code leading to the town's eviction of plaintiffs from a dwelling due to the size or transient nature of plaintiffs' group living arrangement actually or predictably results in discrimination.
Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove that its actions furthered a legitimate governmental interest and that there were no less discriminatory alternatives. Huntington Branch, NAACP, 844 F.2d at 936. Defendant in the present case asserts that the ordinance is designed to keep boarding houses, rooming houses, multiple family dwellings, and other similar arrangements out of residential neighborhoods. The Town contends that it enforces the ordinance against all violators; the enforcement of the ordinance furthers a legitimate governmental interest in maintaining the residential character of the areas zoned for single family dwellings; and any discriminatory effect it may have on plaintiffs is due to plaintiffs' transiency and failure to live as a family, not because of their handicap.
Although a town's interest in zoning requirements is substantial, see Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1, 39 L. Ed. 2d 797, 94 S. Ct. 1536 (1974), the Court finds that evicting plaintiffs from the East Farmingdale Oxford House is not in furtherance of that interest. Five Town officials testified that the Town has received no substantial complaints from plaintiffs' neighbors within the past year. Furthermore, the house is well maintained and does not in any way burden the Town or alter the residential character of the neighborhood. The presence of the East Farmingdale Oxford House in a single family, residential district does not undermine the purpose of the Town's zoning ordinance. Therefore, defendant cannot justify evicting plaintiffs as being in furtherance of its asserted governmental interest.
Even if the Town's proposed enforcement of its zoning ordinance advances a legitimate governmental interest, the Court nevertheless finds that plaintiffs' showing of discriminatory effect far outweighs the Town's weak justifications. Although the plaintiff is not required to prove discriminatory intent in order to show discriminatory effect, in balancing disparate impact against a governmental interest, evidence of such intent weighs heavily in the plaintiff's favor. Huntington Branch NAACP, 844 F.2d at 936. Plaintiffs in the present case have set forth substantial evidence to indicate that the Town had the intent to evict them because they were recovering alcoholics.
On September 3, 1991, a public meeting was held to discuss the East Farmingdale Oxford House. So many neighbors came to the meeting that Supervisor Pitts suspended the normal rules. (Excerpts from Regular Town Board Meeting of September 3, 1991, p. 1 (hereafter "Town Board Meeting")). These neighbors were "hostile" to it, (Deposition of Supervisor Pitts, p.12), expressing their fears regarding the safety of children and senior citizens.
(Town Board Meeting, pp. 1, 3-5). No one from the community or the Town Board spoke in favor of the East Farmingdale Oxford House. (Plaintiffs' Exhibit B, p. 30).
The citizens of East Farmingdale made it clear that they did not want recovering individuals living in their neighborhood. One individual stated, "I don't want [my son] subjected to irrational, unpredicted [sic] behavior from people. (Town Board Meeting, p.5). Another demanded, "what [can you] do to help us remove this threat from our community[?]" (Town Board Meeting, p. 5). In response to their concerns, Supervisor Pitts made the following statements:
Merely not wanting to have someone there doesn't necessarily mean that we can stop them, but what it does mean is that there are all kinds of laws about single room occupancy, occupancy limitations in the town, motel/hotel in the town.