Tenants Win Right of Assembly

A federal judge ruled last Monday [Aug. 12,1996] that the New York City Housing Authority must allow dissident tenants groups to hold meetings in public housing community centers.The case emerged from a 1994 dispute, when NYCHA officials prohibited the Concerned Residents of Taylor-Wythe Houses, a predominantly Latino and black tenants group, from using the Community Center in their Williamsburg, Brooklyn public housing development to discuss racial and ethnic friction between Hasidic Jews and Latinos.

The project has been at the center of a 20-year legal battle over alleged NYCHA favoritism for Hasidic residents.

Federal District Court Judge Robert Sweet ruled NYCHA’s ban of the tenant group violated a 1975 state law requiring landlords to permit peaceful tenant meetings in common spaces. One of the group’s attorneys, Foster Maer of Brooklyn Legal Services, said the ruling also applies to every public housing project. NYCHA had argued that it haven’t violated the law because it allowed officially-sanctioned tenants associations to meet.

“The authority creates associations and gets an in-house union,” said Maer. “When a group defines itself as divisive, all of a sudden NYCHA pulls the rug out. This ruling opens the floor for other decision groups to meet.”

Concerned Residents has met for two years in private homes and church basements since been banned from the center. “We’re not here to fight with our neighbors,” maintains member Patricia Davis, who has lived in the development since it was opened in 1976. “We can work together. We can compromise.”

NYCHA officials said they will not appeal the ruling. “This is something we can live with,” said spokesman Hilly Gross. “We don’t quarrel with the state law.”

Reprinted courtesy of City Limits Weekly.

Met Council editor comments: Maybe NYCHA does not quarrel with the state law, but they were certainly willing to break it to keep public housing tenants in line; until a federal court slapped them down, that is.