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Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp

    Brief Fact Summary. The Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation (Respondent) applied to the Village of Arlington Heights (Petitioner) for rezoning of a 15 acre parcel from single-family residential to multi-family residential, intending to build federally subsidized low to moderate income housing. The request was denied and Respondent sued for injunctive and declaratory relief, claiming that the effect of the denial of rezoning was discriminatory in nature and thus violative of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. Section:3601, et. seq.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Official action will not be held unconstitutional solely because it results in a racially disproportionate impact.

    Facts. Respondent applied to Petitioner for rezoning of a 15 acre parcel from single-family residential to multi-family residential, intending to build federally subsidized low to moderate income housing. The request was denied and Respondent sued for injunctive and declaratory relief, claiming that the effect of the denial of rezoning was discriminatory in nature and thus violative of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. Section:3601, et. seq. Arlington Heights is a suburb of Chicago, which is predominately white (the 1970 census showed that only 27 of the city’s 64,000 residents were black). The city is mostly zoned for single-family detached housing. The Clerics of St. Viator (the Order) owns an 80-acre parcel of land surrounded by single-family housing. In 1970, the Order decided to devote some of its land to low and moderate income housing, and found that the most expedient way to accomplish this goal was to work through a nonprofit developer experienced
    in federal housing subsidies under Section:236 of the National Housing Act, 12 U.S.C. Section:1715z-1. The sale was contingent on Respondent’s securing of zoning clearances from the Petitioner and Section:236 housing assistance from the government. Respondent hired an architect and began the project, which was to be known as Lincoln Green, and was to include 20 two-story buildings with a total of 190 units. Respondent filed a petition for rezoning with the Village Plan Commission along with materials regarding the proposal, including the requirement under Section:236 that an affirmative marketing plan be designed to assure that a subsidized development is racially integrated. The Commission held three public hearings after which it recommended to the Petitioner’s Board of Trustees that the application of Respondent be denied due to the fact that the Commission felt that low income housing would be unsuitable in the proposed location. The Board of Trustees then denied the rezoning application. Then, Respondent f
    iled suit against the Petitioner, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The federal district court found for the Petitioner, but the court of appeals reversed and found for Respondent. The Petitioner appealed.

    Issue. Was the denial of the rezoning application unconstitutionally or statutorily discriminatory?

    Held. The Court found that the Respondents failed to meet their burden of proving that discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor in the Petitioner’s decision, but the court of appeals did not decide whether the Respondent’s have stated a claim under the Fair Housing Act. Reversed and Remanded.
    The Court cited its prior decision in Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S.. 229 (1976), which stood for the rule that official action will not be held unconstitutional solely because it results in a racially disproportionate impact. Proof of racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
    Determining whether discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor demands a sensitive inquiry into such circumstantial and direct evidence as may be available. The impact of the official decision may provide an important starting point.
    In this case the Court found that the decision to deny rezoning was based on a desire by the Petitioner to maintain the area as single-family residential housing, and not for discriminatory motive.
    The burden of proof is on the plaintiff in these cases to prove that discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor in the decision.
    The case was remanded to determine whether the Respondents had stated a claim of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act statute.

    Discussion. In cases without some evidence of racially discriminatory intent, the mere fact that the decision of a governmental agency affects race will not be enough to show a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.


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