ACLU Wins Appeal in Public Housing Desegregation Suit

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
July 14, 2000 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE, MD — In a major victory for Baltimore City public housing residents, a federal appeals court this week put a stop to the city’s 60-year pattern of building public housing in only poor, minority areas of Baltimore.

Despite signing a court-approved agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union in 1996 to stop segregating public housing residents and to begin building public housing in integrated areas, the appeals court noted that the Housing Authority made no effort to fulfill those promises.

“We hope that the Housing Authority and the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development will view this as an opportunity for everyone to work together to fulfill the promises made in the agreement by creating new public housing integrated within good communities,” said Barbara Samuels, an ACLU attorney.

In its opinion, the court held that government defendants do not have “a license to ignore their obligations under [consent] decree[s].”

“Courts have generally allowed government officials a great deal of leeway in changing the terms of a court-approved agreement,” said attorney Marc Goldman. “This decision sends a strong message that governments, like the rest of us, must live up to the promises they have made.”

Originally, the Housing Authority sought federal funding to improve housing for hundreds of families at the Hollander Ridge and Cherry Hill housing complexes. Housing officials later changed plans and decided to demolish family public housing and replace it with mixed-income, senior-only housing, resulting in the loss of 715 units of housing for low-income families at the two sites.

The case, Carmen Thompson, et al. v. U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, et al, was brought by the ACLU of Maryland and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Jenner & Block on behalf of public housing residents.

This unanimous decision by a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concludes a two-year court battle with the Housing Authority.

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