Excerpted From: Paul Xavier Lima, Asian Americans for Equality v. Koch: The Battle over Affordable Housing, 4 Pace Environmental Law Review 491 (Spring, 1987) (164 Footnotes) (Full Document)


AffordableHousingIn deciding the case of Asian Americans for Equality v. Koch, the First Department of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, was called upon to resolve whether the City of New York properly exercised its zoning power in creating the Special Manhattan Bridge District (SMBD) in Chinatown. The Appellate Division refused to extend to New York the principles established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel (Mount Laurel I) and Southern Burlington Courty NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel (Mount Laurel II) and held that the zoning amendments met the standard established by the New York Court of Appeals in Berensen v. Town of New Castle by specifically taking into account the needs of the low- and moderate-income families in the area. Since the SMBD zoning amendments do not require that additional low-and moderate-income housing be constructed despite a demonstrated need, the court's holding is significant because it did not impose an affirmative obligation on municipalities to provide affordable housing for low-income families.

After an analysis of the issue of zoning and affordable housing as presented in New Jersey's Mount Laurel cases and New York's Berensen v. Town of New Castle and Suffolk Housing Services v. Town of Brookhaven, this note analyzes the Appellate Division's decision in Asian Americans, and compares the rationale behind the majority's decision with Justice Carro's dissenting opinion. It concludes by arguing that the current interpretation of New York law is ripe for adjustment to today's environment.

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For Asian Americans to be decided on the merits, it must first hurdle the obstacles of New York civil procedure. It should have been sufficient for the plaintiffs in Asian Americans to demonstrate, as they did, that material questions of fact exist concerning the validity of the zoning ordinance developed from the Study. When the Study's conclusions, reached by the defendant City agency, are largely ignored by the City's agencies themselves, a question arises as to whether such ordinance is the product of a well-considered plan. Asian Americans is at a point in the litigation process where the plaintiffs only need to demonstrate that valid causes of action exist, not the resolution of those causes of action on their merits. This is critical to reversing the Appellate Division's holding. The Appellate Court majority chose to ignore most of the procedural issues in order to decide the causes of action meritoriously; instead, they should have limited themselves to the much narrower issue of simply whether a valid cause of action existed. All of the recent exclusionary zoning cases without exception were resolved after a trial on the merits, indicating that a valid cause of action had been successfully alleged.

Once Asian Americans successfully passes the procedural issue, it can then concentrate on the facts at issue and demonstrate that New York case law has been previously interpreted with sufficient liberality to impose an affirmative obligation on municipalities. Where adverse exclusionary effects of the challenged zoning resolution have a severe impact on an inner-city community in terms of displacement and where a critical need for lower-income housing has been demonstrated, remedial zoning amendments must reflect a well-balanced plan which adequately considers community needs and thereby realistically encourages the construction, rehabilitation and preservation of such housing. The Court of Appeals should utilize Asian Americans as a conduit to facilitate this long-needed change in land-use policy in New York.