The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a 2008 Dallas case that claimed the state method for encouraging low-income apartment development discriminated against low-income tenants.
The plaintiffs, The Inclusive Communities Project of Dallas, claimed the state tax credit program for reduced rent apartment construction resulted in more than 90 percent of the units being built in predominantly African-American or Hispanic neighborhoods.
Home health nurse Welphemia Green serves many clients who live in the tax credit apartments.
She said most of the complexes are far from services like health care that tenants need.
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“They’re going to need the transportation from here over there. So you don’t have the service down here. You have the housing down here but you don’t have the service,” Green said.
Developer Bill Fisher has been involved with several Dallas tax credit apartment projects.
Fisher said the program began in the 1980s as a way to transition away from government operated public housing to privately built and managed apartments.
“This program gave an incentive from day one in qualified census tracts in difficult to develop areas,” he said.
In addition to tax incentives, land is cheaper and more available in those areas, and there was less resistance from neighbors to the reduced rent projects. In many cases, Fisher said, the projects helped improve neighborhoods.
“The state had never intentionally discriminated. We applied in qualified census tracts routinely because those transactions were financially feasible,” Fisher said.
A lower court ruled in 2012 that unintentional discrimination still amounted to discrimination and violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Since the lawsuit was filed and under new policies of the Obama administration, developers have been encouraged to build tax credit units in northern Dallas as well.
Fisher said that change could be lost if plaintiffs fail to persuade the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court ruling.
“If the advocates are not successful, then as long as we’re not discriminating in an intentional manner, they’ll lose a lot of their incentives and leverage over communities,” Fisher said.
The State of Texas argued against the lower court ruling before the Supreme Court Wednesday, claiming it would unreasonable expand restrictions of the Fair Housing Act.
“The Metroplex needs this kind of diversity,” Green said. “We need to spread out. We don’t need to be clustered in one area only.”
Other governments are known to be waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which is expected this summer.