Fair Housing Act claims

SCOTUS rules you don’t have to prove intentional discrimination in a housing claim, only the effect. That used to be the legal standard, but not so much lately with this majority-wingnut court. So this ruling is a pleasant surprise.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday that housing policies and practices with discriminatory outcomes can be challenged under the Fair Housing Act, even if there was no intent to discriminate.

At issue in the case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, was the validity of a theory known as disparate impact, and specifically its application under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, passed just a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Though the FHA protects against many forms of discrimination, disparate impact is seen by fair housing advocates as a particularly vital tool for fighting racial inequality, as it permits lawsuits to be brought against policies that disproportionately affect people of color, even when no overt racial motive can be proven.

The case stemmed from a disparate impact claim filed by the ICP, a Dallas-area nonprofit that promotes racially and economically diverse communities. The group discovered that between 1995 and 2009 the TDHCA had been allocating almost all affordable-housing tax credits to developments in poorer minority neighborhoods, while denying credits to those in wealthier white neighborhoods. The ICP argued that this had the effect of preserving racial segregation by preventing low-income, largely minority residents from moving to white communities.

The nonprofit sued on the grounds that the outcome of this policy was racially discriminatory, even if the Texas housing agency’s intent was not. The organization provided statistical evidence of this disparate impact in court. Under rules laid out in 2013 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the TDHCA was then given a chance to demonstrate that its allocation of credits served a nondiscriminatory business interest, which it couldn’t achieve by less discriminatory means.