MANHATTAN (CN) - A real estate broker barred black people from two large "racially segregated enclaves" in the Bronx, telling them that residents of Silver Beach Gardens and Edgewater Park are "kind of prejudiced" and the co-ops are "Archie Bunker territory," the Fair Housing Justice Center claims in Federal Court.
"Silver Beach Gardens and Edgewater Park (the Co-ops) are a throwback of the very worst kind - two racially segregated enclaves with over 1,100 single-family homes occupied almost exclusively by white residents who evidently wish to keep it that way," the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
The New York City-based nonprofit plaintiff claims that "The Co-ops, in conjunction with a real estate broker who has worked on their behalf for nearly half a century, together ensure that their communities stay white by effectively barring people of color through a policy that is 'strictly enforced' only for minorities, while it is effectively waived for white applicants."
The Justice Center says "although the Co-ops purport to 'require' three references from existing Co-op shareholders for applying purchasers, this 'requirement' is not truly applied to whites, who are told that a seller or the sellers' friends - whom the applicants do not otherwise know - can provide the 'references.'
"In stark contrast, African-American testers - plaintiffs Justin Carter and Lisa Darden - were told of the strict reference policy, never even offered the opportunity to view available properties, and steered away from the communities because there are very few people of 'any kind of ... ethnic color' living at the Co-ops."
The Justice Center says it sent a white tester posing as a married woman with no children, who was invited to see several houses in Edgewater Park and one house in Silver Beach for less than $300,000.
Defendant Amelia dba Amelia Lewis Real Estate allegedly told the tester that she had "raised all three of her children in Edgewater Park" and the co-ops were "very nice ... mostly ethnic Irish, German, Italian ... there's some Puerto Rican, not many."
Lewis showed her eight homes in Edgewater Park and one in Silver Beach Gardens, along with amenities such as a meeting house, recreational park, beach front, guarded entrance, deli, diner and parking lot. When she asked the broker if she needed references, the broker replied no, and told her to "ask the owner of the house to please help you," according to the complaint.
Later that month, September 2009, the Justice Center sent two African-American testers to the co-op. Lewis told them "nearly immediately" that they "have to know three people who live there" or "there's no way you're going to get in there," the complaint states.
Carter and Darden told Lewis that a newspaper article about the co-ops made them sound wonderful, and Lewis replied, "It's not wonderful for everybody," according to the complaint.
Lewis allegedly told them that when "people of color" bought a house just outside Edgewater 15 to 20 years ago, a cross was burned on their lawn.
"Lewis also stated that she had once 'gotten some Spanish in, but they were kinda light, you know' and they had references," the complaint states.
Instead, Lewis allegedly steered them to a more expensive home that she said "needs some work ... two blocks from the projects."
She refused to show them the houses they asked to see in the co-op, the complaint states.
When the white applicant returned days later with a man posing as her husband, Lewis allegedly told them, "You own the land together so there's a lot of discretion over the people that come in which is negative and positive, the negative is it gets a little hard to get in, but once you're in, they watch, they do financial searches on people, criminal searches on people, so once you're in, they make sure that really undesirable people that are nightmares don't come in."
The plaintiffs seek damages for violations of civil rights, human rights and fair housing laws. They are represented by Diane Houk with Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady.
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