ACRU

ACRU: Supreme Court Should Clear Way to Clean Up N.J. Slum

Township Broke No Federal Law in Redeveloping Blighted Housing Project, Group Argues

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 4, 2013) — In a Supreme Court brief submitted Tuesday, Sept. 3, the American Civil Rights Union argues that local officials did not violate the Fair Housing Act when they demolished residences in a blighted, mixed-race area and built more modern units for low-income residents. A group of activists, claiming that the new units had a “disparate impact” on the price of other housing in the area owned mostly by minorities, sued the town, claiming racial discrimination.

Two lower courts ruled for the township on all counts. The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that there was no intentional discrimination but sided with the plaintiffs on the claim of a “disparate impact” against minorities.

In Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al, the ACRU brief, written by General Counsel Peter Ferrara, seeks reversal of the Third Circuit’s disparate-impact ruling, noting that the Fair Housing Act prohibits racial discrimination but does not guarantee racially-based results:

“The decisive facts of this case are not in dispute, and demonstrate that the conduct of the Defendant Township does not come within the language of this prohibited conduct. The Township did not refuse to sell or rent, or refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, any dwelling, for any reason.

“Moreover, the Township’s Redevelopment Plan does not make unavailable or deny any dwelling either. To the contrary, the Redevelopment Plan will increase available dwellings in Mount Holly, and in the Mount Holly Gardens area in particular, by 58 percent in fact, from 329 dwellings to 520. What Plaintiffs are effectively asking of this Court … is to rule that all of the nation’s urban redevelopment and renewal programs involve discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”

The ACRU brief notes that the plaintiffs have failed to prove any “disparate treatment” and that the original sponsor of the Fair Housing Act, Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.), said, “The bill permits an owner to do . . . everything he could ever do with property, except refuse to sell it to a person solely on the basis of his color or his religion. That is all it does. It does not confer any right.”

“[I]f intentional discrimination is eliminated, then housing decisions are determined by objective economic criteria, such as market prices and financial means, which become the principal determinant of whether a person obtains the lease or purchase he or she desires,” the ACRU brief states. “That market decision making reflects the bedrock economic policies of the nation, which have proven most beneficial over the long run.”

Download the brief here. (PDF)