An Orthodox Jewish couple sued two New York City agencies that supervise affordable housing lotteries Tuesday, saying their family of eight faced religious discrimination when they were repeatedly rejected because of their family’s size.
In the Manhattan federal court lawsuit, Chaim Katz and Chana Katz maintain they faced discrimination from two affordable housing lotteries when they applied for a three-bedroom apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 2017.
Their lawyer, Justin Kelton, said they were repeatedly rejected on the basis that the two adults and six children had “too many members” in their family for affordable housing.
“It is extremely upsetting, as you can imagine, to think that you're being discriminated against because of your fervent, deep religious belief in having a large family,” he said in an interview.
The lawsuit said the couple has a sincerely held religious belief that having many children is both an obligation and blessing from God. The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that they were unlawfully discriminated against, in addition to unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
“And, of course, it’s a fundamental right in this country to practice your religion and it’s also a right to have affordable housing. You should not have to choose between these two basic rights that everybody needs,” Kelton said.
Two city agencies — the New York City Housing Preservation & Development and the New York City Housing Development Corporation — were named as defendants, along with several companies.
"We are committed to a fair and equitable process in our housing lottery system, and are reviewing the details of this case,” a city law office spokesperson said in a statement.
According to the lawsuit, decisions based on family size "disproportionately affected Orthodox Jewish individuals based upon their religious beliefs and tenets."
The lawsuit cited a study that found that nearly half of Orthodox Jewish families have comparatively large families of four children or more.
It also noted that a 2013 Pew Research report found that Orthodox Jewish individuals ages 40 to 59 had an average of 4.1 children in their lifetime, while all other Jewish individuals in that age group had an average of 1.7 children.
In March 2019, the New York State Division of Human Rights determined there was probable cause to believe the city and some companies involved in the affordable housing lotteries had engaged in unlawful discrimination.
Kelton said his clients had heard of other families rejected by affordable housing lotteries because of their size.
He said the Katz family had also been rejected by the lotteries on similar grounds before 2017, but those rejections are not included in the lawsuit because the statute of limitations had expired.