A federal district court in Austin recently issued an opinion favorable to cities in the case of NAACP et al. v. The City of Kyle. In the case, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, the National Association of Homebuilders, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued the City of Kyle regarding amendments to the city’s zoning and subdivision regulations. 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.
  • All buildings and structures are required to have four 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.

These 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. (The plaintiffs offered speculative evidence that the possible increase in the price of an entry-level home could rise from approximately $100,000 to $133,000.)

In attempting to show that the increased cost put the homes out of reach for minority homebuyers, the plaintiffs submitted statistical data regarding median incomes compared to the price of a new home in and around the city. The court concluded that the statistics were misleading. Specifically, it held that using the plaintiffs’ “incomplete analysis” would:

Restrict municipalities’ ability to engage in zoning changes in an inflationary economy, as any change to an ordinance that resulted in a price increase would arguably impact minorities more than the ethnic majority in the area examined. To be persuasive, the statistical data must reflect or predict that there will be an actual shortage of housing available to the area’s minorities.

The provision of affordable housing should certainly be a component of land use planning. However, the sustainability of a city through thoughtful development regulations is also important.

The court’s decision says less about affordable housing than it does about the authority of locally elected officials to decide what is best for their city. 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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