“This court is not persuaded” – U.S. District Court rejects Austin Apartment Association challenge to city fair housing ordinance

In a ruling this afternoon, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks rejected a motion for preliminary injunction by the Austin Apartment Association to block implementation of the City of Austin’s  ordinance prohibiting landlords from discriminating against tenants who rely on a Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) to pay a portion of their rent.

With this ruling, the way is cleared to implement the Fair Housing Ordinance, passed unanimously by the Austin City Council last year.

We have written extensively in this blog about the issue and the harm to low-income families, in particular to low-income families of color, caused by this widespread type of discrimination.

We applaud Judge Sparks’ ruling. The Austin Apartment Association has mischaracterized this case from the beginning. The Apartment Association claims to be burdened and suffer from an infringement of their rights as property owners while ignoring the devastating impact of the actions of many of their members in maintaining racial and economic segregation in Austin. Just this week a national study characterized Austin as one of the most economically segregated urban areas in the country. The discriminatory actions of members of the Austin Apartment Association against Housing Choice Voucher holders have, in no small manner, produced and maintained segregation in Austin.

The court ruled that the Austin Apartment Association failed in its “burden of demonstrating a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of the case. The judgement also notes that “the Court concludes the [Austin Apartment] Association has failed to show a substantial likelihood of success of its federal preemption claim.”

Rejecting the Association’s claim that the fair housing law violates the “liberty to contract” the Court ruled…

Moreover, the Ordinance advances an obviously legitimate government interest: ensuring low-income persons — many of whom are racial minorities, children, disabled or elderly — have access to affordable housing (and thus to better schools and safer neighborhoods) throughout the City of Austin.

The Court references a Circuit Court ruling that notes “[F]reedom to contract entails the freedom not to contract… except as restricted by antitrust, antidiscrimination, and other statutes” (emphasis added).

This is the heart of the issue: that government, and all of us for that matter, have a fundamental responsibility to protect the civil rights of our fellow citizens seems to be something the Austin Apartment Association has an inherent problem understanding. Now that a judge has rejected their claims that their property rights trump the fair housing rights of citizens, maybe the landlords association will at last get the message.