London’s Jewish Housing Association Defeats Discrimination Challenge

LONDON -
Houses are seen in London. (Reuters/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo)

A ruling issued by the Divisional Court of the High Court of Justice in London, made public on Tuesday, has upheld the right of an Orthodox Jewish Housing Association to allocate housing exclusively to Jewish families.

Agudas Israel Housing Association (AIHA) was founded to serve the U.K.’s Orthodox Jewish community and builds, part-owns and manages properties in London, Salford and Canvey Island.

The claimants against AIHA, who are not Jewish, 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. The claimants applied for a Judicial Review of the case.

Following a detailed investigation 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 percent of Hackney’s social housing stock

In what is potentially a landmark ruling, the court recognized that Orthodox Jewish community members’ way of life requires them to live close by each other as a community – to the extent that many prefer to live in unsuitable properties rather than to move away from their community.

It also sadly acknowledged widespread and increasing overt anti-Semitism in society and prejudice, including in the private rental sector, specifically against Orthodox Jews, due to their higher visibility as Jewish.

Mrs. Ita Cymerman-Symons MBE, chief executive officer of AIHA, said, “I am gratified that the Divisional Court has recognized the ongoing and increasingly critical work of AIHA 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, “I am grateful that one of the highest courts in the land has recognized the features of the Orthodox Jewish way of life and the possible disadvantages that may be 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.”