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BERKELEY, CA:  The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley enthusiastically applauds the Supreme Court’s landmark decision today to uphold a key legal protection in the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The Court held for the first time that the Fair Housing Act prohibits race-neutral housing policies that nonetheless have a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or family status. Disparate impact, a standard previously applied by eleven of the United States Courts of Appeals, enables courts to invalidate discriminatory policies, regardless of whether such discrimination was intentional.  

“This is a historic decision not only for housing, but for the future of our nation,” says Stephen Menendian, Assistant Director of the Haas Institute. “Housing is the lynchpin of opportunity and upward mobility. Segregation constrains individual life chances and reduces human potential. The Fair Housing Act is the central mechanism for promoting housing integration.”

Menendian was one of the lead authors in an amicus brief filed in support of The Inclusive Communities Project. Entitled the Brief of Housing Scholars, it was signed by 62 of the nation’s most widely known and respected historians, social scientists, demographers, and housing scholars. The opinion of the Court, delivered by Justice Kennedy, directly cited the Brief of Housing Scholars in illustrating the role of public policy in fostering and maintaining segregated residential patterns. 

While the Court acknowledged, “Much progress remains to be made in our continuing struggle against racial isolation," the majority opinion - and today's decision - affirmed, “the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.”

The Brief of Housing Scholars, which was jointly submitted by the Haas Institute and the Economic Policy Institute,  illuminated the legacy of public policy and private behavior responsible for fostering and magnifying racial segregation and the concentration of poverty in low-income neighborhoods over the last half-century. Interplay between public policy and private action, particularly in the mortgage and real estate markets, perpetuated and exacerbated segregation to such an extent that merely banning intentional discrimination in housing would be insufficient to correct long-standing housing patterns of racial isolation.

The Brief also demonstrated the impact of Texas’s administration of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program (LIHTC) and its role in promoting and perpetuating segregation in Dallas County. As recorded in 2010, less than five percent of individual LIHTC housing units in Dallas are located in white majority neighborhoods and only 0.59% of LIHTC units are located in a neighborhood with more than 60% white residents.  In other words, 156 of Dallas’s 162 LIHTC housing projects, which equates to 24,633 of the 25,694 individual units, are located in black majority neighborhoods. The brief featured a series of detailed maps that illustrated the dramatic seclusion of LIHTC units in racially segregated, non-white neighborhoods.

Residential racial segregation remains pervasive more than four decades after the passage of the Fair Housing Act and in many cases has intensified and deepened.  By affirming the disparate impact standard, the Supreme Court has cleared a path for challenging the many exclusionary controls that sustain those patterns.  As our nation continues to struggle with issues related to racial justice, from Ferguson to Charleston, this decision is an extremely significant step in advancing and protecting civil rights in a fair and inclusive society.

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Download a copy of the Brief of Housing Scholars amicus brief.
Read the Supreme Court’s opinion.

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Rachelle Galloway-Popotas
Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society
Tel: 510-642-3326 or 510-329-0032

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 The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley is a research institute bringing together scholars, community stakeholders, policymakers, and communicators to identify and challenge the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society in order to create transformative change.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to  include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security.  To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America.  EPI proposes public policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers and assesses policies with respect to how they affect those workers.