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United States v. Starrett City Associates

    Brief Fact Summary. A housing development owner used rigid racial quotas when selecting tenants for apartments.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Fair Housing Act (Act) does not allow a party to use rigid racial quotas of indefinite duration to maintain a fixed level of integration at an apartment complex by restricting minority access to accommodations.

    Facts. Starrett City Associates (Appellants) owned a housing development and maintained a racial distribution to prevent the loss of white tenants. The application card for the apartment asks for race or national origin. As vacancies arise, applicants of a race or national origin similar to that of the departing tenants are selected from a pool and offered apartments in order to keep a constant racial balance. A group of black applicants brought suit, alleging the procedures discriminated against them on the basis of race, violating the Act.

    Issue. When tenanting procedures are used to maintain a percentage of occupants based on race or national origin, is that a violation of the Fair Housing Act?

    Held. Yes.
    The Act prohibits discrimination because of race, color, or national origin in the sale rental of housing. Unlawful housing practices also include those that disproportionately affect minorities. An action leading to discriminatory effects on the availability of housing violates the Act.
    Defendant’s allocation of apartments based on racial quotas produces a discriminatory effect.
    Although any racial classification is presumptively discriminatory, a race-conscious affirmative action plan does not necessarily violate federal constitutional or statutory provisions. A plan employing racial distinctions must be temporary in nature with a defined goal as its termination point. The use of quotas should be based on some history of racial discrimination or imbalance within the entity seeking to employ them. Programs designed to maintain integration by limiting minority participation, such as ceiling quotas, are of doubtful validity because they single out those least well represented in the political process to bear the burden of a benign program.
    Here, the ceiling quotas of Defendant are not valid. There is no definite termination date for the quotas because Defendant’s purpose is to prevent white flight. The quotas act as a ceiling to a minority group’s access to the apartments. The impact of Defendant’s practices fall on minorities, for whom the Act was designed to protect. The phenomenon of “white flight” cannot justify attempts to maintain integration through inflexible racial quotas.
    The Act does not allow a party to use rigid racial quotas of indefinite duration to maintain a fixed level of integration at an apartment complex by restricting minority access to accommodations.

    Dissent. The Act was designed only to bar perpetuation of segregation. Defendant is not promoting segregated housing. In fact, he is promoting integrated housing. A law enacted to enhance the opportunity for people of all races to live next to each other should not be interpreted to prevent a landlord from maintaining one of the most successful integrated housing projects in the country.

    Discussion. The Fair Housing Act will be violated even where an apartment building owner attempts to promote integration, if the owner uses rigid racial quotas in order to do so. Rigid quotas will be found to discriminate against potential black tenants.


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