The Case of the Interfaith Neighbors

The client is a nonprofit organization created by churches, synagogues, and mosques in eastern Massachusetts to prevent homelessness before it happens and to construct and operate affordable housing while promoting racial integration of the suburbs of Boston. Five homeowners in the fictional town of Baytown donate their single-family homes on lots of one acre or more to the organization on the condition that the property is developed into affordable housing. The client develops a plan for 21 condominiums that would be owned by families while ownership of the land is retained by the nonprofit organization. The zoning law prohibits multifamily housing without a special permit from the town. After a public hearing, the town planning board denies the permit. The question is what to do next.

The underlying legal structure includes (1) the town zoning ordinance; (2) a Massachusetts statute that creates a process for bypassing local procedures to develop affordable housing; (3) state and federal fair housing laws that override local zoning decisions and laws when they have a disparate impact based on race, sex, familial status, or disability; and (4) state and federal religious land use laws that provide exemptions from zoning law for property uses that involve religious or educational uses or religious exercise.