Keep Fair Housing Act strong, AGs argue to U.S. SC

John O'Brien Feb. 1, 2012, 2:45pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Twelve state attorneys general have joined in an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving the Fair Housing Act.

The case, Magner v. Gallagher, is the challenge filed by a group of rental property owners of the housing code used by the city of St. Paul. The attorneys general argue that the Fair Housing Act will be undermined if the court rules with the city.

The issue in the case is whether an act that is not discriminatory on its own but has a discriminatory effect can result in a claim for relief under the Fair Housing Act. The owners allege the housing code requiring renovations to low-income housing was discriminatory because most of the tenants in those properties were minorities.

"Segregation in housing and barriers to equal opportunity remain a great concern for communities throughout the country," the brief says. "Disparate impact causes of action are needed to respond to contemporary forms of bias and to eliminate practices and policies that perpetuate segregated housing patterns."

The housing code resulted in in condemnations and evictions in a city in which African Americans made up 60 to 70 percent of low-income renters despite making up only 12 percent of the city's population, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said.

She was joined in the brief by Massachusetts' Martha Coakley, Arizona's Tom Horne, Connecticut's George Jepsen, Hawaii's David Louie, New York's Eric Schneiderman, Ohio's Mike DeWine, Oregon's John Kroger, Utah's Mark Shurtleff, Nevada's Catherine Cortez Masto, New Mexico's Gary King and West Virginia's Darrell McGraw.

The AGs say they have learned that victims in the mortgage lending market do not know they have been harmed by neutral policies. Cited is Massachusetts' case against Option One Mortgage Corp.

That company, Coakley claims, was causing African American and Hispanic borrowers to pay more for loans than white borrowers because of the way its independent mortgage brokers were compensated.

"(D)iscrimination has become less blatant, yet persists and causes real harm to protected groups," the brief says.

St. Paul's housing code was challenged by the rental property owners under the Fair Housing Act, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that policies that disproportionately impact protect groups violate the act, Harris said.

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