Racial Dimensions of Property Value Protection Under the Fair Housing Act
Nearly fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, race-based residential segregation remains remarkably persistent, as do significant racial disparities in economic well-being. This Comment argues that one contributing factor to the persistence of segregation is different access to legal protections for property value enjoyed by minority and white homeowners. Historically, local land use regulations like zoning effectively served as legally permissible “race-neutral” means of replacing expressly race-based means of keeping “undesirables” out of white middle-class neighborhoods. Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968 to counter this deeply entrenched form of discrimination and to help achieve “truly integrated and balanced living patterns.” But in practice, many federal courts interpreting this civil rights statute have come to see themselves as the guardians of the property interests of middle-class and white families, overprotecting these families from perceived threats to property value caused by government efforts to promote integration. At the same time, these courts underprotect low-income and minority families from property value depreciation and displacement caused by “environmental segregation” and redevelopment. A closer look at the disparity in judicial treatment reveals a critical bias: an unquestioning acceptance of the assertion that the very presence of low-income and minority families can lead to the loss of property value. In order to move beyond the zero-sum game that pits the property interests of middle-class and white residents against those of low-income and minority residents, courts must end the legal double standard that allows the residual harms and unequal benefits of historical segregation to continue accruing to this day.