Disparate Impact: A Texan's Perspective
By John Henneberger
It’s important to remember, as Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project reaches the Supreme Court of the United States later this month, the actual people who bear the brunt of Texas’ history of housing discrimination.
As Alan Jenkins’ earlier post on Rooflines points out, on January 21 the Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments from the state of Texas that the Fair Housing Act does not protect citizens from housing discrimination in practice under a standard known as "disparate impact." As the justices consider whether lower-income people should have a fair and equal opportunity in their choice of housing, or whether their government can force them to live in segregated and distressed neighborhoods, they should think about people like Mary, a medical assistant and mother of three (whose name I have changed for this piece). Her story illustrates what’s really at stake if the Court agrees with the state of Texas and dismantles the disparate impact provision.
Mary, who is African-American, struggled for years to raise her children in an impoverished neighborhood in south Dallas, where the state concentrated most Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) units. She didn’t have a choice—her job barely paid enough to support her family, and it was only through LIHTC that Mary could afford a place to live. But because the state limited LIHTC housing to the same few neighborhoods, Mary and her children spent years in an area with low economic mobility, high crime, substandard schools and unhealthy environmental conditions.