The Fortune Society, Inc., represented by Relman Colfax, obtained a $500,000 judgment in its lawsuit against iAfford NY, LLC, alleging that the affordable housing marketing agent categorically excluded applicants with a record of criminal legal involvement from the affordable housing units in its portfolio.
Fortune is a leading reentry organization that advocates for and provides housing and other services to formerly incarcerated individuals. In the lawsuit, filed in October 2022, Fortune alleged that after one of its clients was rejected from an iAfford unit solely based on a prior conviction, Fortune engaged in a months-long investigation to determine the scope of this policy or practice. In three recorded tests, iAfford managers and employees articulated a policy of categorically excluding and/or discouraging applicants with a record of criminal legal involvement from iAfford-marketed affordable housing units, without conducting an individualized review.
Fortune alleged that this policy or practice violates fair housing laws, as it disproportionately bars Black and Latino applicants from housing without considering each applicant’s individual history and circumstances. Fortune alleged that iAfford’s practice had a disparate impact based on race, color, and/or national origin. It further alleged that the race-based disparities are so profound, and the blanket ban so unnecessary, that iAfford’s practices also give rise to an inference of discriminatory intent.
Pursuant to the judgment, entered on August 15, 2023, iAfford must pay Fortune $500,000. In addition, the judgment concedes that certain actions by iAfford violated fair housing and human rights laws; prohibits iAfford from enforcing a blanket ban of justice-involved applicants; and orders iAfford to comply with applicable City, State, and federal fair housing laws, as well as to take affirmative steps to ensure ongoing compliance. These affirmative steps include an annual training for iAfford employees, a written housing anti-discrimination policy, a formal appeals process for applicants denied because of criminal history, and a yearly report to Fortune on iAfford’s compliance efforts.
Access to affordable housing opportunities is critical for formerly incarcerated individuals—who are disproportionately Black and Latino—to be able to rebuild their lives, reintegrate into society, and contribute to their communities. This judgment follows a steady line of cases, including The Fortune Society, Inc. v. Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund, Inc. and HOME of Virginia, Inc. v. Wisely Properties, LLC, et al., sending a powerful message to housing providers that sweeping exclusionary policies barring applicants with criminal legal involvement are unlawful, and they must instead engage in a meaningful individualized review of each applicant’s circumstances.
The judgment can be found here.
The Relman Colfax litigation team includes John Relman, Lila Miller, Valerie Comenencia Ortiz, and Emily Curran, with paralegal assistance from Kelis Johnson.