A Dallas housing case could have national ramifications. Photo of the Dallas skyline by Ken Slade.
A case currently facing the Supreme Court has the potential to undermine the 1968 Fair Housing Act and perpetuate residential segregation across the country.
On January 21st, the Supreme Court argued over the legality of funding low-income housing developments in Dallas, Texas. The Inclusive Communities Project, a Dallas-based organization, claims that the Texas Department of Housing is in violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act because it disproportionately builds affordable housing in poor neighborhoods. This keeps people who are in need of affordable housing in poor neighborhoods. Since people who need affordable housing are disproportionately people of color, that means cities like Dallas remain segregated by race.
As the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund notes:
“Long-term residential segregation has grave consequences for the lives and livelihoods of millions of [people of color]. Individuals who reside in neighborhoods characterized by entrenched housing segregation face dimmer economic prospects, lower property values, truncated social and professional interactions, and inferior schools.”
On the other side, the Texas Department of Housing argues that not placing people in pre-existing state-funded housing would cost the state more money. More people can be housed in existing buildings in cheap neighborhoods.
At the heart of this case is the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This key piece of civil rights legislation was passed just seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On paper, the Fair Housing Act ended the widespread practice of redlining—the explicit restriction of people of color from certain neighborhoods. However, present day housing discrimination exists in a lot of forms, including landlords’ tendency to quote higher rental prices to people of color and building managers often refusing to rent to people with kids.
As Seeta Gangadharan, a research fellow at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, summed up in Next City, “In the United States, place is race.” Cities, apartment buildings, and neighborhoods are often segregated by race and, in many cities, the situation isn’t getting any better. Here’s a map, for example, of the racial makeup of Dallas that shows how the city is largely segregated:
Map courtesy of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
In addition to the issues of city segregation, the Dallas case brings up a debate over the concept of “disparate impact.” The Texas Department of Housing argues that they certainly don’t intentionally contribute to racial segregation. Are they still guilty of creating a discriminatory situation even if they didn’t mean to? “Disparate impact” broadens the definition of discrimination to include laws and policies that, while neutral in their essence, disproportionately harm specific groups of people. In other words, the Supreme Court is determining whether the law can intervene in cases of housing discrimination if there is a discriminatory outcome, or only if you can prove that there’s intentional racism. If future housing cases have to prove that landlords and developers meant to discriminate, that would be a big deal.
Also at stake here are kids’ schools. Housing discrimination directly impacts equal access to education. The pre-existing housing areas that the government is funding are farther away from good schools and high-income jobs, perpetuating a cyclical pattern of poverty. Additionally, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law points out, “Social science research confirms that school segregation is tethered to residential segregation because of the prevalence of neighborhood schools in the public school system.”
The housing discrimination case facing the Supreme Court is one case in the broader scope of legalized discrimination against communities of color. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Texas, the ability of the Fair Housing Act to create equal access to housing will be severely impaired. The scope of the act will be limited to intentional discriminatory practices, upholding residential segregation in the U.S. If we want less-segregated cities and schools, the Supreme Court should listen to the NAACP on this case.
Related Reading: Black Women Face Absurdly High Rates of Eviction.
Shade Samuelson is a student, artist, community organizer, and avid concert-goer living in Portland, Oregon.