Housing & Environmental Justice

AALDEF’s Housing & Environmental Justice Program provides legal representation, community education, and organizing support to immigrant communities on land use, anti-gentrification, and environmental justice issues. One of the chief consequences of gentrification is the involuntary displacement of low-income residents and small businesses that cannot afford the rising costs of rent and everyday goods. Gentrification has changed many immigrant neighborhoods from vibrant, residential communities into tourist spots. If community input is not considered, local ordinances and zoning, the introduction of large institutions and sports complexes, and unfettered luxury development can destroy neighborhoods. Our program aims to counter this impact in our neighborhoods. At the heart of our work is the principle that every community should be able to choose what is best for itself.

We collaborate with tenants, small businesses, and local community groups to sustain neighborhoods where immigrants live and work.


  • In 1986, we won the landmark New York Court of Appeals ruling requiring environmental review of new developments that may displace low-income tenants and small businesses. Furthermore, blocking the construction of Henry Street Tower, a proposed high-rise residential condo in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
  • In 1996, we won a consent decree in Nhem v. Fall River Housing Authority after the racially motivated killing of a Cambodian resident, which improved services and security for Massachusetts public housing tenants.
  • In 2013, we published a report on the gentrification in the Boston, New York, and Philadelphia Chinatowns. 10 years later, we have organized hundreds of volunteers on land use surveys. These surveys contribute to a first-of-its kind comparative 10-year study of the East Coast’s three largest Chinatowns. The resulting comparative reports will greatly enhance our understanding of how Chinatowns have fared in the last decade and the solutions necessary to ensure their survival in the future.
  • In 2019 and 2022, we filed a lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs from the Lower East Side and Chinatown neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan, whose rights to health, welfare, and safety were infringed upon by the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development project.
  • In 2023, we are representing a coalition of community groups to fight against the Philadelphia 76ers arena currently sited right next to Philadelphia’s Chinatown.

Program Priorities:

  • Advocacy for equitable zoning that protects tenants and small businesses in neighborhoods like Chinatown.
  • Building coalitions with community organizing and base-building groups to ensure community control of land.
  • Litigation, in partnership with community groups, to oppose predatory forces in low-income neighborhoods of color.
  • Documenting gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods with significant low-income immigrants, residents of color, and small businesses.
  • Countering policies that result in environmental racism.