EAST NEW YORK — The country's largest federally subsidized housing complex has been illegally turning down families hoping to lease its apartments using rent vouchers from a program Mayor Bill de Blasio started to combat homelessness, a new lawsuit charges.
Regina Alston and Sandra Vaughn-Cooke are suing the owner and property manager of Spring Creek Towers in Brooklyn, claiming the housing complex discriminated against them after they inquired about available apartments.
When Alston and Vaugh-Cooke each inquired, they were living in emergency shelters and qualified for rent vouchers through de Blasio's Living in Communities Rental Assistance Program. The vouchers help cover the monthly rent of families with limited income.
But Spring Creek representatives told Alston and Vaughn-Cooke that the housing complex did not accept the vouchers, according to the lawsuit. The city's Human Rights Law prohibits landlords from discriminating against prospective renters based on their source of income.
Tenant advocacy group Fair Housing Justice Center, which joined Alston and Vaughn-Cooke as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, also had members contact representatives at the Spring Creek about available apartments. The Spring Creek representatives also told the group's members that they would not accept the rental vouchers, according to the lawsuit.
"It's totally illegal of this landlord to say that they are not going to accept tenants because of how they are going to pay their rent," said Robert Desir, a Legal Aid lawyer representing Alston, Vaughn-Cooke and Fair Housing Justice Center.
After being turned down for an apartment in February, Alston, a city bus attendant, was forced to remain in a rat-infested emergency shelter with her domestic partner and their two children, the lawsuit says. Eventually, they moved into a less-desirable NYCHA apartment at Lafayette Gardens in Brooklyn.
In late July, Spring Creek representatives told Vaughn-Cooke that they wouldn't accept her voucher. Vaughn-Cooke, an actress, then contacted Fair Housing Justice Center.
In early August, she received an application from Spring Creek, according to the lawsuit. She submitted the application on Aug. 20, but has not gotten a response from Spring Creek, the lawsuit says.
The owner of Spring Creek Towers, Starrett City Inc., and the property manager, Grenadier Realty, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Spring Creek Towers, which was formerly known as Starrett City, consists of 46 buildings with 5,881 apartment units in East New York.
De Blasio introduced the Living in Communities Rental Assistance Program a year ago to help families move out of shelters and into stable housing. The city's Human Resources Administration oversees the initiative.
HRA Commissioner Steven Banks said in a statement that the Legal Aid Society informed his agency that Spring Creek wasn't accepting the rental vouchers. He added that his agency was glad legal action was being taken.
"People receiving rent assistance have the same legal right to rent an apartment as anyone else," he said.
"HRA will take firm action anytime we learn of discrimination against families receiving rent help."