SCOTUS Decision Huge for Fair Housing

Since the United States Supreme Court ruling last Thursday came down in favor of marriage equality by a decision of 5-4, there’s been much celebration across the nation. Indeed, it is a step in bringing true equality to all, but, the victory left a not-so-minor detail largely unnoticed. While the LGBT community and those that support its strides have lauded SCOTUS’s decision, many still are unaware of another ruling.

That ruling is quite remarkable, precisely because of its reach and language. The Supreme Court ruled that any discriminatory practices, even if unintentional, are unconstitutional, under the Fair Housing Act.

SCOTUS Decision Huge for Fair Housing

For more than four decades, groups seeking justice to fight what’s known as “disparate impact,” a concept that argues minorities and low-income persons are harmed unfairly by some practices common in mortgage lending, insurance policy issuance, occupancy rules, and zoning laws. The underlying case comes out of the Lone Star State, through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project.

“The Supreme court on Thursday re-affirmed a federal law passed in 1968 to combat housing discrimination by holding that the law allows not only claims for intentional discrimination but also, claims that cover practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if they were not motivated by an intent to discriminate.” —

In that case, heard by the state’s Supreme Court, the The Inclusive Communities Project filed suit against the state of Texas, challenging the way it allocated its housing tax credits. The Inclusive Communities Project asserted the state’s use of said housing tax credits to promote segregation, pointing out the fact that for a long, fourteen year period, affordable housing was only built in poor, minority neighborhoods. During the same time, the state did not put one housing tax credit toward affordable housing in privileged neighborhoods.

Such a practice, The Inclusive Communities Project argued, violated the United States Fair Housing Act. SCOTUS agreed with that assertion, “The Court holds that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act. Much progress remains to be made in our Nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, in the majority opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer all concurred to the point.

It’s important to understand the larger implication of the Supreme Court’s ruling, because it’s not limited to just the poor and socioeconomic integration. It also applies to the LGBT community, who have long fought a battle for equal protections under the law and have been subjected to discrimination in housing, when renting, buying, or selling.

For many years now, lower courts have ruled in favor of the argument citing disparate impact, including cases brought forth by The Inclusive Communities Project and other civil rights groups. Another important aspect to the decision doesn’t limit it to poor neighborhoods. No matter where developers choose to build new communities, they will be subject to considerations of providing equal access to housing, regardless of type.

Under the system, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the federal agency that’s tasked with administering the Fair Housing Act. However, states too, have such departments, and, ultimately it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that no one is discriminated against for housing.