NYC Housing Giant Accused of HIV Bias

MANHATTAN (CN) – A 5,000-unit housing complex in Queens discriminates against HIV-positive people by design, an indigent woman claims in Federal Court.
     The Fair Housing Justice Center and Lorelei Chacon sued the Lefrak Organization, Inc. and Estates NY Real Estate Services LLC, which run the 40-acre complex known as LeFrak City.
     As a 37-year old woman diagnosed with AIDS, Chacon claims that New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration agreed to provide a full housing subsidy if she could find an apartment that cost about $1,100 a month.
     “HASA would also provide a security deposit, a broker’s fee (if necessary), and the first month’s rent,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Chacon claims she called LeFrak in September 2011, and that the woman who answered referred her to an office that handled renters paying with government subsidies. When she dialed that number, Chacon says, she spoke to Tamika Jones, who discouraged her from seeking an apartment at LeFrak City.
     Jones is not a party to the complaint.
     “When Ms. Chacon told Ms. Jones that she was only interested in LeFrak City, Ms. Jones explained that first she had to find out if Ms. Chacon was ‘eligible’ by conducting a background check and having her come into the office for an interview,” the complaint states. “Ms. Jones told Ms. Chacon that before she would show her any apartments, Ms. Chacon would have to provide certain documents, including a letter from HASA.”
     Since HASA does not write such letters, the policy discriminates against people with HIV and AIDS, according to the complaint.
     Chacon says LeFrak rejected her application on Oct. 26, 2011.
     The Fair Housing Justice Center investigated by sending out “testers,” according to the complaint.
     The nonprofit claims that LeFrak turned away testers who said they were living with AIDS and on government subsidies, but welcomed those who did not fit this description.
     Armen Merjian, one of Chacon’s attorneys, blasted LeFrak in a statement.
     “Discrimination in housing is not merely odious and offensive, but it is life-threatening for thousands of indigent New Yorkers living with AIDS,” Merjian wrote. “With affordable housing increasingly hard to come by in this city, it is critical that we ensure that apartments be made available to all, regardless of disability or source of income.”
     Merjian is a senior staff attorney at Housing Works, an AIDS charity.
     “Indeed, there is an expression in the AIDS community: ‘Housing is health care,'” the complaint states. “As a 2005 study commissioned by the New York City Mayor’s Office on AIDS Policy Coordination concluded: ‘Homeless persons with HIV/AIDS face unusual health risks. They are thought to experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality than domiciled persons with HIV/AIDS, to face greater barriers to health care, and to be less likely to have access to and/or the supports necessary to comply with complex anti-HIV drug regimens. In New York City, homelessness or unstable housing has been found to be persistently associated with barriers to medical care, lower rates of service utilization, and poor adherence to complex treatment regimens.'”
     The plaintiffs seek punitive damages and an injunction for violations of the Fair Housing Act and New York City Human Rights Law.
     Co-counsel with Merjian is Diane Houk, with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.
     LeFrak did not respond to a call seeking comment.

%d bloggers like this: