A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has heightened the discussion about where to build affordable housing.
Housing agencies and developers are increasingly looking to go into “high-opportunity” neighborhoods, which are often suburban areas that have good schools, low crime, and low poverty rates. The trouble is these neighborhoods are often resistant to affordable housing.
The NRP Group, a longtime affordable housing firm, recently felt the heat when it proposed building in Dalworthington Gardens, a high-opportunity area in Texas.
The push to go into these neighborhoods comes after the Supreme Court upheld the application of disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act.
“Disparate impact is nonintentional discrimination,” said Michael Skojec, a partner at the Ballard Spahr law firm, during a panel discussion at AHF Live: Housing Developers Forum in Arlington, Va. “You can still have liability for housing discrimination even when there was no intention to discriminate.”
The court ruling came in the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) v. Inclusive Communities Project (ICP) case involving low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs). The case began several years ago when ICP brought a disparate-impact claim against TDHCA, alleging the department had caused continued segregated housing patterns by allocating too many housing tax credits to developments in predominantly black inner-city neighborhoods and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.
Although the court upheld the theory, it said there are important limitations, said Skojec. For example, mere statistical disparity is not sufficient.
Still, organizations need to be concerned about where they are siting developments. “You have to take a more balanced view of how you develop affordable housing,” Skojec said.
Even with the court decision, some cities are not deterred by the threat of a lawsuit, says Debra Guerrero, vice president of government affairs at The NRP Group in San Antonio, Texas. The firm has developed more than 10,000 multifamily housing units throughout the state.
The Community Builders (TCB), a Boston-based nonprofit organization, has successfully built affordable and mixed-income housing in high-opportunity urban and suburban neighborhoods, including Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and parts of Chicago.
He called on other developers to find and prioritize high-opportunity sites and to advocate for local and state policies to allow more suburban development.