UK: Jewish housing association defeats discrimination challenge
A housing association which provides accommodation exclusively for Orthodox families has defeated an application for Judicial Review by a mother and her young son over its allocation policy.
The English High Court dismissed a claim, which had been brought by a non-Jewish family in Stamford Hill, protesting that Agudas Israel Housing Association (AIHA) policies precluded people who were not members of the Orthodox Jewish community from becoming tenants.
In a decision handed down this week, the court recognised that Orthodox Jewish community members’ way of life requires them to live close by each other as a community - to the extent many decide to live in unsuitable properties rather than to move away from their community. It also recognised widespread and increasing overt anti-Semitism in society and prejudice, including in the private rental sector, against Orthodox Jews on account of their appearance, language and religion.
The claimants had wanted to be allocated a home in AIHA’s new Aviv development in Stamford Hill, but were not given the chance to bid. The claim, against Hackney London Borough Council and AIHA, challenged AIHA’s policy of allocating its social housing properties on the basis that they precluded any persons who are not members of the Orthodox Jewish community from becoming tenants.
Following a detailed review of the social housing market, and the specific characteristics of Hackney’s Orthodox Jewish Community, including anti-Semitism and religious needs, the Divisional Court ruled that AIHA’s policy was lawful and found against the application for Judicial Review, concluding that AIHA served a specific need and tried to do so with access to only 1% of Hackney’s social housing stock.
The judgement handed down by Lord Justice Lindblom and Sir Kenneth Parker, added: “AIHA’s arrangements are justified as proportionate … the disadvantages and needs of the Orthodox Jewish community are many and compelling. They are also in many instances very closely related to the matter of housing accommodation.
“We recognise the needs of other applicants for social housing, but in the particular market conditions to which we have referred, AIHA’s arrangements are proportionate in addressing the needs and disadvantages of the Orthodox Jewish Community, notwithstanding the fact that in those market conditions, a non-member cannot realistically expect AIHA to allocate to him or her any property that becomes available.”
Ita Cymerman-Symons MBE, chief executive officer of AIHA, which has previously stated that over 1,000 Orthodox families are on AIHA’s waiting list for appropriate accommodation, said: “This ruling will help address the imbalance, disadvantages and prejudices faced by Orthodox Jewish families in trying to find suitable housing.
“I am gratified that the Divisional Court has recognised the ongoing and increasingly critical work of AIHA both in addressing today’s rising anti-Semitism and in our continuing contribution to the members of the Orthodox Jewish community and to the development and strengthening of that community. I firmly believe that our work contributes to alleviating in our small way, a national housing crisis, freeing up other non-AIHA social housing for others. We do not take properties from others, but we lessen the queue for other properties.”
Elliot Lister, partner at law firm Asserson, representing AIHA, said: “The Divisional Court has today endorsed the critical work of a charity established to fight anti-Semitism and discrimination in the face of allegations that it itself discriminates. The Jewish community and even more so the obviously Orthodox Jewish community, faces an ongoing battle against anti-Semitism, recognised by their Lordships as widespread and increasing and overt.
“The Orthodox Jewish community’s members’ way of life requires them to live close by each other as a community, to the extent that many prefer to stay in unsuitable properties than to move away from their community.
“I am grateful that one of the highest courts in the land has recognised the features of the Orthodox Jewish way of life and the disadvantages that are engendered by that way of life. More importantly the court has confirmed that the disadvantages can be legitimately addressed by a charity founded for that purpose, without fear of censure for discrimination.
“For an organisation that was established to counter discrimination and has that as its mission, this is a particularly important judgment.”