DALLAS (CN) – A Texas law preventing cities from banning federal housing voucher bias discriminates against black people by keeping them out of white neighborhoods, a low-income housing advocacy group claims in court.
Dallas-based Inclusive Communities Project sued Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday in Dallas federal court, claiming a section of state law passed in 2015 violates minorities’ civil rights.
Texas Local Government Code 250.007 states, “A municipality or county may not adopt or enforce an ordinance or regulation that prohibits an owner, lessee, sublessee, assignee, managing agent, or other person having the right to lease, sublease, or rent a housing accommodation from refusing to lease or rent the housing accommodation to a person because the person’s lawful source of income to pay rent includes funding from a federal housing assistance program.”
ICP says federal housing vouchers are used most heavily in minority areas in Dallas.
“Most of the multifamily landlords with units that can be rented at voucher program rents in white non-Hispanic areas refuse to rent to voucher households,” the 31-page complaint states. “There is an unmet demand by voucher households for dwelling units in these areas. The multifamily landlords with units that can be rented at voucher program rents and that rent to voucher households are disproportionately located in predominantly minority areas.”
ICP argues the law allows landlords to deny housing to voucher families who can pay the rent and “for whom there are no legitimate business reasons not to accept” as tenants.
“By permitting the multifamily landlords in white areas to discriminate solely on the basis of participation in the voucher program, the statute excludes the predominantly black voucher households from white areas,” the complaint states. “The statute segregates those households in minority concentrated areas that are marked by conditions unequal to the conditions in the areas from which they are excluded. The statute has the intent and the effect of perpetuating racial segregation.”
About 86 percent of voucher participants in Dallas are black, according to ICP.
The group said that before the law was enacted, Dallas passed an ordinance in 2014 that banned discrimination against voucher households, making more units in white neighborhoods available to ICP’s clients.
Earlier that year, city officials entered into a settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to enact the ordinance after the agency investigated segregation claims regarding the redevelopment of 1600 Pacific, a proposed apartment development in the downtown central business district.
Gov. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Friday.
ICP seeks declaratory judgment for alleged violations of the 14th Amendment and the Fair Housing Act. It is represented by Michael M. Daniel with Daniel & Beshara in Dallas.
The lawsuit comes six months after a federal judge dismissed the nonprofit’s federal lawsuit against Texas’ Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Filed in 2008, that lawsuit claimed a law giving the state discretion in awarding housing credits was ultimately discriminatory. It cited a study by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs that found a disproportionate allocation of credits to areas of “above average minority concentration and below average income levels.”
U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater found that “ICP has not isolated and identified the specific practice that caused the disparity in the location of low-income housing.”