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THE FORTUNE SOCIETY FILES SUIT AGAINST iAFFORD FOR BARRING PEOPLE WITH CRIMINAL JUSTICE INVOLVEMENT FROM ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN NEW YORK CITY

(October 31, 2022 – New York, NY)The Fortune Society (Fortune) has filed suit against iAfford NY, LLC for barring people with previous criminal justice involvement from accessing New York City-assisted affordable housing units in its portfolio, disproportionately disqualifying Black and Latino applicants.

Relman Colfax PLLC filed the civil complaint on behalf of Fortune in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, charging that the Brooklyn-based firm categorically rejects applicants solely based on justice involvement, and “disguises its offending blanket ban” as a City policy.

iAfford serves as a gatekeeper for prospective applicants attempting to secure City-assisted affordable apartments in the developments it markets.

The lawsuit notes that “policies that categorically deny housing to people with criminal records, including the blanket ban maintained and enforced by iAfford, are unlawful… Such policies have a severe disparate impact on Black and Latino individuals, and any legitimate safety concerns can be satisfied through the less discriminatory alternative of giving individualized consideration to each potential resident’s circumstances and qualifications as a tenant.”

JoAnne Page, President and CEO of The Fortune Society, said, “Through its blatantly discriminatory actions, iAfford continues to send a message to anyone with prior criminal justice involvement: you need not apply for housing. Providing housing services and advocating for housing opportunities for people with criminal justice history are fundamental to Fortune’s mission because housing is critical to the stability and success of justice-impacted persons as they work to build constructive lives in their community for themselves and their families. iAfford’s actions are frustrating the will and good social policy efforts of New York City Housing, Preservation and Development because iAfford is holding marginalized justice-impacted people and their families, who are primarily persons of color, back from a vital housing resource that is intended to bring about equity and stability to communities and to the lives of those intended to benefit from New York City’s investment in affordable housing.”

As a marketing agent, iAfford manages the application and selection process for thousands of City-assisted affordable housing units in more than 100 developments throughout more than 40 neighborhoods across New York City. iAfford also serves as a marketing monitor for developments with City-assisted units and is therefore tasked with monitoring developers’ compliance with affordable housing regulations and New York City Housing Preservation and Development requirements.

The lawsuit stems from a Fortune Society client who applied to an iAfford-marketed apartment last year, armed with a City-sponsored rental assistance voucher and meeting other qualifications. iAfford denied his application at the pre-screening stage solely because he had a past conviction, did not engage in an individualized assessment of his case, or respond to his efforts to appeal the decision. Fortune subsequently investigated the scope of iAfford’s conduct, and, in recorded calls, three iAfford employees corroborated that iAfford discourages and/or rejects applicants with criminal convictions.

Valerie D. Comenencia Ortiz, an Attorney at Relman Colfax PLLC, noted, “By categorically denying housing to justice-involved individuals and their families, iAfford undermines their ability to rebuild their lives and contribute to their communities. Unsurprisingly, due to well-known racial disparities in the criminal justice system, iAfford’s blanket ban shuts out Black and Latino households from much-needed affordable housing opportunities at disproportionately high rates. But no one’s race, color, or national origin should dictate their access to safe and affordable housing, regardless of their past. Housing providers should take note that sweeping exclusionary bans like iAfford’s are unlawful and will not go unchallenged.”

The complaint describes the impact of such discrimination, noting that nationally, more than half a million people are released from confinement each year. Largely because the imprisoned population as a whole is disproportionately Black and Latino and 95% of the imprisoned population is eventually released, 65% of the formerly incarcerated population in the United States is Black or Latino. Three-quarters – 75% – of New York State’s formerly imprisoned population is Black or Latino and as recently as in 2015, 46% of the people released were Black, while 23% were Latino.

“iAfford’s blanket ban has a clear disparate impact on the basis of race, color, and national origin,” the lawsuit reads. “Black and Latino individuals are far more likely than white individuals to have a criminal record. As a result, iAfford’s blanket ban operates to disqualify otherwise-qualified Black and Latino individuals from living in its marketed properties at disproportionate rates. When narrowing the analysis to the qualified applicant pool, these disparities persist.”

The suit seeks not only a finding that iAfford violated the law but also an injunction enjoining iAfford from continuing the illegal and discriminatory practice and compensatory and punitive damages.

The Relman Colfax litigation team includes John Relman, Lila Miller, Valerie D. Comenencia Ortiz, and Margaret Moran. For more information about The Fortune Society, visit www.fortunesociety.org.

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ABOUT THE FORTUNE SOCIETY: Founded in 1967, The Fortune Society has advocated on criminal justice issues for over five decades and is nationally recognized for developing model programs that help people with criminal justice histories to be assets to their communities. Fortune offers a holistic and integrated “one-stop-shopping” model of service provision. Among the services offered are discharge planning, licensed outpatient substance abuse and mental health treatment, alternatives to incarceration, HIV/AIDS services, career development and job retention, education, family services, drop in services and supportive housing as well as lifetime access to aftercare. For more information, visit www.fortunesociety.org.

ABOUT RELMAN COLFAX PLLC: Relman Colfax PLLC is a civil rights law firm dedicated to building a more just, inclusive and equitable society, where discrimination and segregation do not determine outcomes in housing, lending, employment, education, public accommodations, and criminal justice. Its mission is to use civil rights litigation to combat systemic discrimination and segregation on the basis of race, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, and other protected classes, to seek remedies for individuals and organizations that have been harmed by those forces, and to counsel companies, governments, and organizations about progressive policies that increase equity and opportunity.

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