A federal judge has denied a request to amend an affirmative-action plan that was put in place several decades ago to desegregating public housing in Toledo and Lucas County.
U.S. District Court Judge David Katz found recently that the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority's use of housing vouchers under the federal Section 8 program had not been shown to worsen racial segregation in public housing projects.
The matter stems from a class-action case that stretches back to 1974, which alleged the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority (at the time the Toledo Metropolitan Housing Authority) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development segregated minority and white tenants when building and renting out housing.
Federal courts found in favor of the plaintiffs — several public housing tenants or prospective tenants who were Mexican-American and African-American and wished to live in suburban areas — and ordered the housing authority to put in place an affirmative-action plan to provide more racial balance at its properties.
Plaintiffs in the case, represented by Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, asked last year that the plan be modified. They alleged the housing authority had not achieved “any meaningful progress” on desegregation and the affirmative-action plan should include the Section 8 voucher program administered by LMHA, not just public housing.
Under the Section 8 program, tenants are given a voucher and are allowed to choose their own privately-owned rental housing, unlike traditional public housing that is owned and operated by a housing authority.
Along with denying that modification request, Judge Katz found that, based on measurements of the percent of minority and non-minority residents at various LMHA sites, “LMHA is making some progress towards desegregation (significant progress in elderly housing, moderate progress in family housing).”
However, the ruling noted the affirmative action plan “is not well suited to contemporary realities,” with outdated ratios of minority and non-minority residents the housing authority is striving for at each site.
“Furthermore, the practical application of waiting lists, resident preference, and LMHA’s shifting focus (to Section 8 and rebuilding troubled projects) likely means that LMHA could act in a completely fair, non-discriminatory, non-segregationist manner and still never reach the point where every project’s ratio” was within a desegregated racial balance, Judge Katz wrote.
The judge also recommended the plaintiffs and LMHA work together to revise the affirmative-action plan.
“[I]n Lucas County, there is an extensive waiting list for public housing,” the judge also noted. “When a resident does not get into his desired location, it may be a reflection of that resident’s need for immediate housing more than a poor reflection on desegregation efforts. For example, a minority application may not end up living in a predominantly non-minority location because his strong need for housing left him with no other choice than to take the first available unit rather than waiting months or years for an opening in his desired location. This, then, reflects the sad reality of a heavily burdened public housing system in general, not that system’s ability to desegregate its properties.”
Linnie Willis, the housing authority's executive director, declined to comment on the ruling Friday.
Aneel Chablani, a lawyer and director of advocacy for ABLE, said his agency hopes to work with LMHA to further enhance the desegregation plan.
“The real harm that is done in segregation is that it isolates people and it disconnects them from opportunities,” he said.
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