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Discrimination Suit Against Kyle, Texas Goes to Court

A lawsuit alleging violation of the federal Fair Housing Act by the city of Kyle heads to trial in federal district court in Austin, Texas on Monday, Feb. 11.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Austin Branch of the NAACP, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin and NAHB filed the suit in 2005, contesting new development regulations and building codes enacted by the city in 2003.

The new requirements push the cost of housing beyond the means of many low-income families, with a disproportionate impact on minority families who have lower average incomes, according to an analysis of Census data for the region.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal to put up roadblocks to racial and ethnic minorities when passing housing ordinances.

"Homeownership is critical to family stability and it is an important aspect of wealth building and financial security, especially for families of color," said Dennis C. Hayes, interim president and CEO of the NAACP. "We take issue with the zoning codes instituted by the city of Kyle that make it more difficult for minority families to buy a home."

When implemented, the new development regulations will reduce the affordable housing options for all lower-income families that might be looking for a home in Kyle. Statistics show that the regulations have a significantly disproportionate impact on minority families.

For example, a family must have an income of $42,858 to qualify for financing to buy a $133,000 home, the approximate projected price of a new entry-level home built to comply with the city's new standards. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, while the median income of white families in the Austin-San Marcos metro area exceeds that amount, the median income of Hispanic and black families falls well short. 

"We're not asking the city of Kyle to give anyone a cash settlement, and we're not asking them to alter their regulations in a way that sacrifices the safety or quality of the homes built there," said Jerry Howard, NAHB’s executive vice president and chief executive officer. "But we do want the city to recognize that its building ordinances are making it increasingly difficult for minority households to buy a first home. All we're asking for are modest changes to the regulations to make it easier to build quality housing at a reasonable price."

The revised zoning and subdivision ordinances adopted by Kyle created many more costly requirements and increased the minimum living area of a home by 20% and its lot size by almost 14%. These rules are significantly more restrictive than previous requirements and have the unquestionable effect of pushing up the cost of housing — larger houses on larger lots mean more expensive homes.

Along with more stringent building set-back requirements, the revised regulations require that all buildings, structures, garages and accessory buildings have all four sides composed of brick, stone or other approved masonry. Garages are required to be a minimum of 480 square feet, enough space for two-and-a-half cars. These mandates are more costly than standards found in many nearby cities and not something that all families may need or want.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits municipalities from using their zoning and land planning powers in a way that excludes housing for certain classes of people protected by the law. Courts have ruled that local jurisdictions have violated the Fair Housing Act even when government officials did not intentionally discriminate.

"Minority families do not enjoy the same economic and housing opportunities as white families in this country," Hayes said. "We're not going to sit by idly and watch the city of Kyle pass laws that have the effect of driving housing costs beyond the reach of families of color."

For more information, e-mail Blake Smith at NAHB, or call him at 800-369-5242 x8583.

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