New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Town of Chester and Orange County, alleging that local government officials blocked a housing development project by chasidic Jews in an act of anti-Semitism.
The lawsuit alleges that the town and county “engaged in a concerted, systematic effort to prevent chasidic Jewish families from moving into the Town in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
The suit follows an earlier one filed in July by the developers of the project, called “The Greens at Chester,” in which they claimed that officials with the town and county governments had blocked the site’s development because they feared chasidic Jews would move into the town.
“Blocking the construction of homes to prevent a religious group from living in a community is flat out discriminatory,” said James in a statement. “This campaign to deny housing to members of the Jewish community is not only a clear violation of our laws, but is antithetical to our basic values and blatantly anti-Semitic.”
“Every step of the way, we felt like this development was being used as a vessel to advance bias and discrimination, targeted against the Jewish community, so in the end it became less about a housing development and more about the sole existence of the Jewish people in this part of the state,” said Livy Schwartz, one of the developers of the Greens at Chester, in a statement.
The two lawsuits come amid a charged environment for Orthodox Jews in the northern suburbs of New York City. In neighboring Rockland County, the local Republican Party ran an ad in August in connection with another housing project developed by Orthodox Jews. The ad warned that chasidic Jews were “plotting a takeover” that would threaten “our way of life.”
Last month, a chasidic man in Spring Valley was stabbed early in the morning on his way to synagogue; police say they do not have enough evidence to call the stabbing a hate crime. Frequent attacks on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have also raised alarms in communities which often have close bonds with those outside the city.
The attorney general’s lawsuit alleges that the town and county officials violated the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit alleges that the officials passed laws that would require the developers to build the houses in such a way as to make them uninhabitable for families, to impose extra taxes on the developers, and to limit the hours of construction on the site.
The developers purchased the site in 2017 with permission to construct 431 single family homes. The town and county officials then “improvised a series of discriminatory policies to prevent construction by Plaintiff of any of these 431 homes,” the developers alleged, because the officials believed the homes would be occupied by chasidic Jews. The July complaint includes a number of examples of anti-Semitic statements by town and county officials from spring of 2018.
“Defendants have done so because, by their own account, they feared the homes would be purchased and occupied by Hasidic Jewish families, whom Defendants regard as ‘threats’ to the ‘character’ of the Town,” the developers wrote in the July complaint.
Citing statistics on anti-Semitic incidents from the Anti-Defamation League, James condemned the actions of the town and county officials as acts of anti-Semitism. “As we have seen an alarming rise in the rates of anti-Semitic incidents in New York and across the country, this type of intolerance and discriminatory behavior, especially at the hands of local government, is truly despicable. Intolerance towards others only fosters hate and makes our communities weaker,” said James.