Fordham Law Clinic Files Federal Lawsuit Alleging Discriminatory Housing Practices in New York City


Fordham Law School’s Right to Housing and Civil Rights Litigation Clinic filed a class action lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) on behalf of low-income Black and Hispanic renters who were eligible for federal rental assistance during the pandemic but were told not to apply. The suit says they were left waiting for years or did not receive it at all because of the way the money was distributed.

The student-led lawsuit was filed in federal court in Manhattan. Lincoln Square Legal Services, the non-profit law firm affiliated with Fordham Law School, is representing the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

Unlike how the federal funding was disbursed in other places in the country, state law administered by OTDA deprioritized public housing residents and recipients of subsidized housing from getting rental assistance through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program during the pandemic. This caused many renters to fall behind in their rent, or lose their housing completely, according to the lawsuit.

As of April 2024, only 15,000 NYCHA families have been approved for assistance, despite there being closer to 70,000 families who have fallen behind on rent during and following the pandemic. As a result, NYCHA is filing consumer debt cases and other civil court proceedings against these vulnerable households that were harmed by OTDA and NYCHA’s discriminatory actions, the lawsuit states.

“Tenants nationwide received crucial rental assistance during the pandemic, but thousands of Black and Hispanic public housing residents in New York were wrongfully blocked from receiving the help they deserved,” said Fordham Law Associate Professor Norrinda Brown, director of the clinic. “They are still experiencing brutal impacts, and now they are seeking justice.”

Fordham Law students Deanna Bassaragh ’25, Alex Israel ’24, Sydney Katz ‘24, and Talia Rubin ’25, who work in the clinic, are leading the litigation effort. They represent three plaintiffs, who are all women of color, as well as Residents to Preserve Public Housing (RPPH), a collective organization of tenants who reside in public housing across the five boroughs of New York City. Students William Boher ’24, Afrika Owes ’24, Ryan Schaitkin ’24, Elizabeth Shyer ’24, and Benjamin Spock ’24 also worked on the matter in fall 2023.

Israel said, “We are proud to represent NYCHA residents and to confront systemic injustices head-on to ensure that every individual is treated fairly under the law.”

The lawsuit is seeking an injunction pausing NYCHA’s evictions and lawsuits for back rent, damages for the immense suffering endured by Black and Hispanic renters because of these policies, and an order to ensure future housing assistance programs properly comply with discrimination law.

Bassaragh said, “Being able to contribute to this lawsuit as a law student is truly empowering. This experience underscores the importance of hands-on learning in addressing real-world legal challenges.”

“Our clients, along with the tens of thousands of potential class members they represent, have endured immense challenges during and following the pandemic,” added Katz. “Seeking justice for them through this lawsuit is the least we can do to prevent further harm to already vulnerable communities.”

Rubin said, “Discrimination should never go unchecked, especially when it jeopardizes the well-being of already marginalized communities. We are proud to represent NYCHA residents and to confront systemic injustices head-on to ensure that every individual is treated fairly under the law.”

Aixa Torres, co-treasurer of RPPH and a member and Manhattan South Chair of the Citywide Council of Presidents, said, “As an organization dedicated to safeguarding public housing, we recognize the urgent need for legal action to address systemic inequalities facing NYCHA residents. We seek not only to rectify past injustices but also to ensure that our members receive the fair treatment and support they deserve.”


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