Judge Expected to Sign Order Ending Jewish-hispanic Dispute over East Side Housing Project

Barring last-minute objections, a federal judge is expected to sign an order here tomorrow ending a dispute between Jewish and Puerto Rican groups which has kept a new housing project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side vacant for more than two year

The dispute began when former Puerto Rican residents in the 14-block Seward Park Extension Urban Renewal area brought suit, through Mobilization for Youth Legal Services, in federal court. MFY contended that the City Housing Authority had illegally given preference to families outside the designated area, most of them Jewish, in renting the 360 apartments in the two 23-story low-income buildings in the project.

The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) which, with the Legal Aid Society, represented the Jewish community of the Lower East Side in the lengthy litigation which followed, said that the Housing Authority granted 171 leases out of 360 to whites, mostly Jewish, residents of nearby areas. That arrangement, plus a number of leases given to white former project site tenants would have resulted in an ethnic make-up to avoid ghettoization of the project, a COLPA spokesman said.

Under the compromise agreement slated for approval tomorrow by Judge Morris Lasker. Jewish applicants will receive about 120 apartments, or about 50 less than the initial assignment of apartments, the COLPA spokesman said He pointed out, however, that there had been a possibility, if the courts had sustained the MFY contention that the law required priority in assignment of apartments to former residents of the site, that there might have been far fewer Jewish families receiving apartments.

MAY START MOVING IN NEXT MONTH

The Housing Authority granted the 171 leaseholds to Jewish families after deciding that former site residents who had been re-located to other housing, had no automatic priority for the new apartments and that Jewish families had preference for buildings near a synagogue. The two buildings are equipped with “Sabbath elevators” which can be set to stop automatically on each floor. The COLPA spokesman said the tenants were expected to start moving into the two buildings before the end of March.

In a ruling on the suit by MFY, Federal Judge Marvin Frankel issued in May 1972 a temporary injunction barring the city from renting 197 disputed apartments on grounds the city had violated the constitutional rights of Puerto Ricans, Blacks and others by giving preference to Jews. That ruling was appealed by the City Housing Authority, with COLPA and Legal Aid Society intervening on behalf of the Jewish lease holders. A series of lower court judges, including Judge Lasker, ruled in favor of the Hispanic plaintiffs on a number of issues in the case, leading to fear for the continuing viability of the Lower East Side Jewish community, the COLPA spokesman said.

Last Sept. 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts and ordered the case back to Judge Lasker for a trial of issues related to the legal arguments, particularly the question of ghettoization, to be determined at the trial. A series of conciliation meetings followed to avoid the trial.

The settlement was outlined in a hearing notice issued by Judge Lasker, which provides for a prescribed ethnic balance in the two buildings, with additional low-income apartments available to members of both groups in a three-building privately-sponsored project, mainly middle-in-come, in the renewal area. The two low-income buildings will be populated by about 60 percent Hispanic and non-white residents, and 40 percent white residents. (By Ben Gallob.)

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