June 25, 2015

The Federal Government provides low-income housing tax credits that are distributed to developers by designated state agencies. In Texas, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (Department) distributes the credits. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (ICP), a Texas-based nonprofit corporation that assists low-income families in obtaining affordable housing, brought a disparate-impact claim under §§804(a) and 805(a) of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), alleging that the Department and its officers had caused continued segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods. Relying on statistical evidence, the District Court concluded that the ICP had established a prima facie showing of disparate impact. After assuming the Department’s proffered non-discriminatory interests were valid, it found that the Department failed to meet its burden to show that there were no less discriminatory alternatives for allocating the tax credits. While the Department’s appeal was pending, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development issued a regulation interpreting the FHA to encompass disparate-impact liability and establishing a burden-shifting framework for adjudicating such claims. The Fifth Circuit held that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the FHA, but reversed and remanded on the merits, concluding that, in light of the new regulation, the District Court had improperly required the Department to prove less discriminatory alternatives.