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DAILY v. NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY

September 11, 2002

JOAN DAILY, PLAINTIFF,
V.
NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, ANTHONY RICHBURG, REINALDO PAGAN, AND LOUIS ORTIZ, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Trager, District Judge:

CORRECTED MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Joan Daily brings this action against the New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA") and three NYCHA employees, claiming that they violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 11 of the New York Constitution, and Section 40 of the New York Civil Rights Law by denying her application to use the community center at Woodside Houses, the public housing development at which Daily lives, to conduct "Bible studies" designed to comfort residents following the events of September 11, 2001. The complaint, filed on February 28, 2002, sought a preliminary injunction restraining the defendants from enforcing the NYCHA policy under which defendants denied Daily's application. An evidentiary hearing and oral argument was held on June 12, 2002.

Background

(1)

Plaintiff Daily is a resident of one of the approximately 1,500 apartments in the Woodside Houses, a public housing development located in Queens, New York that is owned and operated by NYCHA. Daily is the founder and pastor of the "I Must Be About My Father's Business Ministries, Inc." See Daily Letter of Oct. 13, 2001. The Woodside Community Center ("WCC") is a community center within the Woodside Houses that is also owned and operated by the NYCHA. See Declaration of Anthony Richburg ("Richburg Decl.") ¶¶ 1, 6. Following the events of September 11, 2001, Daily wrote to defendant Louis Ortiz, Director of the WCC, requesting permission to use the WCC "to conduct Bible studies" to "help, comfort, [and] encourage" local residents and "to let them know that all is not lost." Daily Letter of Oct. 13, 2001. "The purpose of this Bible Study was to study the Scriptures and to aid residents in dealing with their distress over the senseless terrorist killings of September 11." Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction ("Pl.Mem.") at 2. Ortiz gave plaintiff's letter to his superior, defendant Reinaldo Pagan, an NYCHA Borough Administrator. See Declaration of Louis Ortiz ("Ortiz Decl.") ¶ 15. Citing NYCHA regulations that "prohibit the use of any NYCHA property for religious or political activities," Pagan denied Daily's request. See Pagan Letter of Oct. 15, 2001. Daily appealed this denial to defendant Anthony Richburg, Director of NYCHA's Queens Community Operations Office,*fn1 and Richburg upheld Pagan's decision. Pl. Mem. at 1. To date, Daily has been unable to use the WCC for her proposed sessions.

(2)

NYCHA operates approximately 118 community centers throughout New York City. Richburg Decl. ¶ 6. According to NYCHA guidelines issued to community center directors, the goal of these community centers "is to offer public housing residents, specifically children and youth, a variety of educational, recreational, social, and cultural activities and programs." Richburg Decl. Ex. A at 1.

The WCC is used for a variety of activities. These activities fall into two categories: regularly scheduled educational and after-school uses, and temporary uses. The WCC has three primary regularly scheduled uses. First, General Equivalency Diploma classes are taught during the day, as is a ceramics class geared toward senior citizens. See Ortiz Decl. ¶ 9 & Ex. A (WCC schedule for Dec. 2001-Mar. 2002). Transcript of June 12, 2002 Hearing ("Tr.") at 41. Second, an after-school program for six-to-twelve year olds operates during the school year from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. See id. ¶ 5. In accordance with NYCHA guidelines and standards, this program includes homework assistance, reading skills development, snacks and dinner, and activities such as arts and crafts, indoor and outdoor games, computers, movies, and story telling. See id. & Ex. A. During the summer, this program is replaced by a similar day-camp program. See id. ¶ 5.

Third, a program for teenagers operates between 7:00 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. See Ortiz Decl. ¶ 6. Classes in dance, computers, sewing, and ceramics are offered, as are activities such as arts and crafts, weight lifting, Girl Scouts, and study hall. See id. & Ex. A. Adults may join in these classes. See id. ¶ 9; Richburg Decl. ¶ 8.

As part of the after-school program, there are also six weeks of workshops for children between nine and eighteen on topics such as leadership and communication skills, conflict resolution, decision-making, drug abuse prevention, cultural diversity, and responsibility. See Ortiz Decl. ¶ 8 & Ex. B. NYCHA, in collaboration with the Office of the Mayor and the New York City Police Department, sponsors these workshops, called the ASPIRE program.*fn2 See id. This program is limited to teenagers. Tr. at 10.

Beside these uses, the WCC may be used temporarily by several groups. The regulation to which Pagan referred in his letter to Daily, NYCHA Standard Procedure 088:80:1 ("Standard Procedure"), governs the procedure for the temporary use of NYCHA-managed community centers. Pl. Mem. Ex. A. Section III.A. of the Standard Procedure lists three approved temporary uses of NYCHA-managed community centers. First, "[a] recognized Tenant Association (including its committees and affiliates) may have use of the community center rent free, as space is available. This includes use of the community center for meetings, fund-raising affairs, and other events." Id. Neither party discusses what a recognized tenant association is, but apparently it is the "duly elected resident council" that a housing authority must recognize as "the sole representative of the residents it purports to represent" under federal regulations governing the Department of Housing and Urban Development. See 24 C.F.R. § 964.18(a)(1). The regulations also state that, if requested, a housing authority should provide a resident council office space and meeting facilities free of charge. See 24 C.F.R. § 964.18(a)(7).

It is not entirely clear whether the WCC has been used in the past by the tenant association. According to Richburg, NYCHA Deputy General Counsel Henry Schoenfeld, and NYCHA Assistant General Counsel Gary Nester, the community centers generally are used for monthly tenant association meetings to discuss housing, maintenance, and related issues. Tr. at 2-3, 41. Richburg and Nester acknowledged that the regulations permit the tenant association to use a community center to raise funds for its activities, but did not indicate whether any such events had been held at the WCC. Tr. at 3, 4-5. Richburg also acknowledged that "occasionally [a tenant association] might have someone come in and speak to the residents about housing issues or issues that are for the community." Tr. at 4. The broad expression — "issues that are for the community" — went unexplained.

Second, section III.A. of the NYCHA Standard Procedure states that "[o]ther tenant groups may use common spaces within the community centers free of charge for RPL 230 meetings." Pl. Mem. Ex. A. An "RPL 230" meeting is a meeting of a group organized under New York Real Property Law § 230. Under § 230(1), landlords may not "interfere with right of a tenant to form, join, or participate in the lawful activities of any group, committee, or other organization formed to protect the right of tenants." N.Y. Real Prop. Law § 230(1) (McKinney's 2001). In addition, "[t]enants' groups, committees or other tenants' organizations" have the right "to meet without being required to pay a fee in any location on the premises including a community or social room where use normally subject to a fee which is devoted to the common use of all tenants in a peaceful manner, at reasonable hours and without obstructing access to the premises or the facilities." N.Y. Real Prop. Law § 230(2) (McKinney's 2001).

Richburg stated that he did not know of any other tenant groups using the WCC. Tr. at 7. In addition, as the regulations discuss using the WCC for "RPL 230 meetings," it seems that only a tenant organization "formed to protect the rights of tenants" could use it under this regulation.

Finally, section III.A. allows community centers to be "rented for family events and celebrations such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries in accordance with this procedure." Pl. Mem. Ex. A. According to the schedules, the WCC was rented for three Saturdays in March, 2002, but no further detail was provided about the events that took place. See Ortiz Decl. Ex. A.

Section III.B. lists several activities that are prohibited at all NYCHA-managed community centers:

• Sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages.

• Any form of gambling.

• Any other form of illegal activity.

• Any partisan activity.

• Any sale of tickets for events, including performances, raffles or dances, unless prior Authority approval has been granted.
• Religious services, unless the religious services are directly connected to the principal reason for a family-oriented event, such as weddings.

• Any commercial ...


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