A brief history of AIHA & the Orthodox Jewish
community in Hackney
From our inception, AIHA’s objective was to address the housing difficulties of the Orthodox Jewish community. By 1991, the community’s size had reached an estimated 18,000 people.
This has since grown to approximately 75,000 people living in specific geographic areas in North London, Manchester, Gateshead, Canvey Island and Westcliff. With the community’s growth, housing need has been becoming more acute.
Our community has deep roots in Hackney, dating back to the early 20th century. The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations was established in Stamford Hill in 1926.
Whilst historically self-sufficient, the community has experienced significant economic, social and housing pressures over the last 25 years. The severe contraction of our traditional industries affected the economic base of the community and the ability to meet members’ own needs. These factors were compounded by massive rises in the costs of home ownership and private renting, forcing the community to look for external support. Furthermore, where the community is readily identifiable from their dress and appearance, they have been easy targets for racial abuse, harassment and attack.
Deeply held religious beliefs govern where and how the Orthodox Jewish community live. For example, a household must live within walking distance of the synagogue because vehicular transport is not used on the Sabbath and festivals. This has resulted in the community living in tight geographic clusters, the most prominent of which is Stamford Hill in Hackney.
The legal challenge
A legal challenge against the aims, objects and work for which AIHA was established was mounted against us in 2017.
A single mother with disabled children who was in housing need argued that AIHA was discriminating against her by not providing her with a home because she was not Orthodox Jewish. AIHA defended its policy as a proportionate and legitimate way of meeting the needs of a minority group that has specific needs and inequalities in respect of housing.
AIHA was vindicated and won outright at each stage, from High Court, Court of Appeal to Supreme Court. Most recently, in 2022, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed the UK Supreme Court’s finding and rejected a further appeal. At every level, the judges ruled that AIHA’s work, mission and objectives are lawful, allowing us to continue the work for which we were founded, ‘developing and managing homes for the Orthodox Jewish community’.