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LIC Luxury Tower Leaves Behind People with Disabilities, Lawsuit Alleges

A rendering of The Forge development in Long Island City.
A rendering of The Forge development in Long Island City. Graphic: @TheForgeLIC/Facebook

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A Long Island City luxury tower topped by a rooftop sky lounge is a monument to disability discrimination, a federal lawsuit alleges.

The Fair Housing Justice Center contends the developers, architects and owner of The Forge, a 272-unit Queens rental building, “openly ignored their legal obligations” and denied equal housing opportunities to New Yorkers with disabilities.

Relying in part on an investigation by testers who posed as a couple seeking an apartment for a relative who uses a wheelchair, the nonprofit Fair Housing Justice Center alleges a litany of failures to comply with local, state and federal fair housing laws.

The center, in a lawsuit filed last week in Manhattan Federal Court, argues the Purves Street building’s hallways and main entrance are too narrow for wheelchairs. Outlets and thermostats are out of reach, and door handles are inaccessible, according to the suit.

Attorney Diane Houk, representing the Fair Housing Justice Center, said The Forge is just one of multiple new luxury buildings in LIC, and in the city, that have created hurdles for people with disabilities.

“It’s very stark in LIC when you have so much new construction to then see that so much of it is not accessible and doesn’t comply with the law,” Houk said. “In the last 10 years, there’s been a huge building boom.”

The Forge, built in 2017, was developed by Gotham and Brause Realty, and was designed by FXFOWLE. It’s managed by Gotham and owned by an LLC that lists the same address as Brause’s headquarters.

The building, a mix of studios, and one- and two-bedroom apartments, sports a roofdeck and an outdoor movie screening area. A one-bedroom with a den goes for $4,000 a month.

The architect’s profile of The Forge on its website advertises “the conveniences of urban living,” with spaces “tailored” to meet specific needs.

In a statement, representatives for building said, “The Forge is fully committed to providing accessibility for all individuals. We take the issues raised by the Fair Housing Justice Center seriously and will perform a thorough evaluation.”

Accessibility Commonly Overlooked

The suit also alleges the defendants “have a regular practice of designing and constructing multi-family residential dwellings” in New York City that fail to comply with fair housing laws.

In May, the Fair Housing Justice Center sued Gotham and FXFOWLE over what it alleges are inaccessible units at The Ashland in Fort Greene and The Nicole in Hell’s Kitchen.

The defendants denied all allegations of discriminatory practices, saying both buildings were designed and built in accordance with city code, according to legal documents. The lawsuit is pending.

In 2014, FXFOWLE and the Durst Organization settled a suit brought by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney over alleged disability discrimination at The Helena in Hell’s Kitchen. A consent decree required FXFOWLE  to pay a civil penalty of $30,000, plus $35,000 to a fund for tenants who suffered from “discriminatory housing practices.”

Houk said that while she believed the cases brought by federal prosecutors have generally prompted developers to prioritize building accessibility, the decisions have not exerted a lasting industry-wide effect. Gleaming new high rises sprouting in LIC are among the biggest culprits, she added.

Neighborhood Issues

Over the past decade, nearly two dozen federal lawsuits over allegedly inaccessible housing have been filed in New York City, based on investigations conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center.

“We still see considerable non-compliance in our investigations,” said Fred Freiberg, the group’s executive director.

The suits include a 2017 action targeting Halo LIC, a building directly across the street from The Forge.

The defendants, including the building’s developer, Rabsky Group LLC, denied all allegations and argued that the plaintiff “failed to set forth a specific pattern and practice of discrimination,” court records show. That case is ongoing.

Even the new Hunters Point Library, a 15-year construction effort costing $41 million, recently came under fire for being partially inaccessible. The library is a about a mile from The Forge.

Since 2006, LIC has added upwards of 20,400 new residential units and there are currently more than 350 ongoing development projects in the area, according to the Long Island City Partnership.

“As new developers come in, as new neighborhoods are built in LIC, the pattern unfortunately repeats itself,” said Houk.

CORRECTION (Nov. 18, 2019, 5:15 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the owner of The Forge. The building is owned by Purves Street Owners LLC, which has the same address as Brause Reality’s headquarters. This story has also been corrected to remove a reference to a rooftop pool at The Forge. There is a pool, but it is not on the roof.

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