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Luxury Buildings in Williamsburg and LIC Ignore Fair Housing Laws: Lawsuit

By Gwynne Hogan | October 17, 2017 8:37am
 The Driggs, Williamsburg is one of the three buildings, that according to a federal lawsuit, is not fully accessible to residents in wheelchairs.
The Driggs, Williamsburg is one of the three buildings, that according to a federal lawsuit, is not fully accessible to residents in wheelchairs.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

WILLIAMSBURG — The controversial developer currently requesting the city's permission to build a sprawling apartment complex in the Broadway Triangle has routinely flaunted federal fair housing laws meant to make new buildings accessible for disabled New Yorkers, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Three large apartments buildings with about 725 apartments constructed by the Williamsburg-based developer The Rabsky Group since 2011 in North Brooklyn and Long Island City are not accessible to people in wheelchairs for a slew of reasons, like internal steps and narrow doorways, according to the Fair Housing Justice Center who sued the developer in July.

The center's executive director, Fred Freiberg, said New Yorkers shouldn't tolerate "a major developer who, over a few short years, produces over 725 new rental units that are largely inaccessible to people with physical disabilities."

The lawsuit comes as the members of the City Council deliberate whether or not the Rabsky Group should be allowed to rezone a large swath of dormant land in Williamsburg's Broadway Triangle region in order to build a residential and retail complex with 1,146 apartments and some public space

The company is also in the process of building a 500-apartment complex at Bushwick's Rheingold site.

To back up their claims, the nonprofit sent their members into three of Rabsky's buildings — Halo, LIC at 44-41 Purves St. in Long Island City built in 2016 along with The Driggs Williamsburg at 205 N. Ninth St. and Driggs, North at 220 N. 10th St., both built in 2011.

The "testers," as they're dubbed in the lawsuit, pretended to be couples inquiring on behalf of wheelchair using relatives.

Inside and outside the buildings the testers found a slew of violations of the Fair Housing Act which requires new construction be made accessible to people in wheelchairs.

"The violations we found in this part case were worse than many of [the ones we've seen]," Freiberg said. "Lots of interior doors [were] not wide enough ... bathrooms being too small, kitchens being too narrow."

They noted a lack of accessible parking, exterior doors interior that were hard to open and steps inside apartments that made parts of the units inaccessible, the lawsuit also alleges.

The suit asks for damages and that a judge demand that the Rabsky Group retrofit the buildings to make them accessible.

Lawyers for the principles of the Rabsky Group, Simon Dushinsky and Isaac Rabinowitz and for Salamon Engineering PLLC, a firm that designed the Halo LIC, denied all the claims set outlined in the lawsuit, according to court filings.

“While we won’t comment on the specifics of ongoing litigation, after conferring with its architects, planners and engineers, the developer is confident that the buildings in question were constructed in compliance with all city, state, and federal guidelines and statutes," said Christopher Singleton, a spokesman for the Rabsky Group. 

As the City Council deliberates the Rabsky Group's controversial proposal for the long-dormant Pfizer site in the Broadway Traingle, Freiberg said he hoped officials would keep the needs of disabled New Yorkers in mind.

"The city ought to have an interest in protecting the rights with people with disabilities who seek housing in New York City," he said. "We’re going to be keeping a very close eye on any building that goes by this developer."

A judge will begin to hear the claims of both sides at a conference set for Oct. 19.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nearly a week after reaching out to the developer in the story, they responded on Tuesday with a comment for the story. The quote has been added above.