FIFTH CIRCUIT REJECTS APPEAL OF FAIR HOUSING CASE

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in NAACP et al. v. City of Kyle. The case relates to municipal development authority.

In the case, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, and the National Association of Home Builders sued the City of Kyle regarding amendments to the city’s zoning and subdivision ordinances. The plaintiffs claimed that the ordinances violated the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against minority homebuyers.

The ordinance amendments that formed the basis of the lawsuit included such items as:

  • One single-family district that allows homes with a minimum of 1,600 square feet of living area, on a minimum lot size of 8,190 square feet.
  • Another single-family district that allows homes with a minimum of 1,200 square feet of living area, on a minimum lot size of 6,825 square feet.
  • Buildings and structures in the two residential districts are required to have all sides of brick, stone, fiber cement siding, or other approved masonry product.
  • Each home must have an attached garage with a minimum of 480 square feet.

Those regulations would not be considered overly burdensome to most observers. However, the plaintiffs claimed that they “significantly” increase the price of entry-level homes, thus placing them beyond the financial reach of many potential minority homebuyers. In March 2009, the federal district court in Austin held in favor of the City of Kyle.

The court of appeals also held in favor of the city. It did so for the procedural reason that neither the NAACP nor the builders’ associations have standing to sue the city because, in part, no evidence was presented that any of their members were unable to purchase a home as a result of the ordinance amendments.

Contrary to the plaintiffs’ claims, the case really isn’t about discrimination against certain homebuyers. Certain groups continually attack municipal building regulations because of the costs that they impose. What those groups fail to recognize is that municipal regulations and, more importantly, services make a community viable to begin with.

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