Avenue 6E Investments, LLC v. City of Yuma

Facts: A developer with a history of creating affordable housing projects for diverse populations applies to the local government to build a new housing project. The local zoning commission unanimously approves the project and forwards the application to the city council which holds a public hearing on the project. Neighboring homeowners attend the public hearing and complain about the development’s appeal to minority families. The city council uncharacteristically denies the developer’s rezoning request, its first denial of such an application in three years.

Claim: The developer seeks to sue the city for disparate treatment of their affordable housing project, claiming the city’s refusal to rezone land to permit the development violates the Fair Housing Act (the Act) and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution since the city council discriminated against the project to appease their constituents’ racist objections in spite of regular practice and the recommendation of the zoning commission.

Counterclaim: The city seeks to dismiss the developer’s claims of disparate treatment, claiming their actions are not discriminatory since similarly-priced housing is available elsewhere in the city for minority residents.

Holding: A United States court of appeals holds the developers were discriminated against according to the Act and the Equal Protection Clause and may pursue the city for its actions since the city’s decision was based on appealing to racist constituents despite the recommendations of the zoning commission. [Avenue 6E Investments, LLC v. City of Yuma (March 25, 2016) __F3d__]

Editor’s note — In a wide-ranging opinion, the court chronologizes  a history of the Act from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the conclusions of the Kerner Commission, the problems caused by housing segregation and the “unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification.” In this case, the types of discrimination faced by the developer and the potential homebuyers are both disguised and obvious.

The court makes clear the language used by the neighbors is racially-biased against Hispanics. Some homeowners go so far as to object to the possibility of “unattended juveniles roaming the streets,” behavior the court notes might also be called “letting children play in the neighborhood.” That the city denied the developer’s request for zoning changes in spite of these arguments is disconcerting.

In marketing homes for sale or rent, it is important to keep in mind the Act renders it unlawful to, among other things “make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” [42 United States Code § 3604(a)]

Read the case text.