A leading Jewish housing association is being taken to court over its policy of providing homes only for Orthodox Jews, with its chief executive vowing to fight the case “tooth and nail”.
The judicial review case, which will be heard by the High Court, has been brought by two non-Jewish families against the Agudas Israel Housing Association (AIHA) and Hackney Council.
The case challenges the council’s decision not to allocate housing in AIHA properties to the claimants, and alleges Hackney’s arrangements are discriminatory in allowing AIHA only to allocate housing to members of the Orthodox Jewish community.
Ita Symons, who set up the housing association in 1981 to provide accommodation for the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill, described the case as “a political stunt, from people who really want to put an end to AIHA.
“They are challenging the whole purpose for which AIHA was founded, the very core and essence of what AIHA is doing.”
The families were not given the chance to bid on units in the association’s newly completed Aviv development, Mrs Symons said.
“They are in secure accommodation now, but they need larger accommodation, and they claim they have to have Stamford Hill, they have to have ground floor,” she said.
“Now, why would any person other than Charedim want to live in Aviv, which is full of Chassidim?”
Mrs Symons said the case was due to be heard in October. AIHA’s defence needs to be submitted by Tuesday.
She described how AIHA had received “huge support from members of the community, who are writing to us and asking if they can do anything to help”.
The waiting list for AIHA accommodation is almost 20 times oversubscribed.
“We’ve had around 11 units available a year for the last seven years,” the AIHA housing head said.
“If we’ve got 200 Orthodox Jewish families who are eligible for a home, urgently enough according to Hackney Council’s own criteria, why on earth would we house anyone except the Orthodox Jewish community? It doesn’t make any sense.”
The Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill is experiencing a housing crisis which has led some families to move to Manchester while others have left to join newly formed Charedi communities in Canvey Island and Westcliffe.
The JC has seen letters sent in support of AIHA, with the housing association’s work in the community described as “vital” and “life-saving”.
Mrs Symons said: “Obviously I’m going to fight it tooth and nail, to the last stand. I’m not going to let go. I’ll fight it with all the energy in me.”
Nick Billingham, the lawyer representing AIHA, said the housing association had a “strong” case.
“Our defence relies firstly on positive discrimination and secondly on the charitable exemption under the Equality Act 2010,” he said.
“This permits a charity to favour a group with a protected characteristic for the purposes of compensating for a disadvantage linked to that characteristic, and where it’s a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
“And of course we say that’s exactly what it does. We’re confident that there isn’t a much better example of a situation where a charity is providing benefits to prevent or compensate for a disadvantage.”