SCOTUS Discussion Series Continues with Housing Discrimination

Photo by Hope Patti

On Tuesday, Nov 17, the SCOTUS discussion series continued in an event focusing on housing discrimination. The discussion revolved around the Supreme Court case Texas Dept. of Housing Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities, and was led by political science professor Michael Unger.

“At the heart of this case are claims about housing discrimination and segregation, and how patterns of segregation have developed over time and how we deal with them today,” Unger said at the opening of the discussion.

The case occurred in Texas and revolved around the issue of the federal government filtering money through tax credits and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to subsidize the amount of low income housing. The Inclusive Communities Project claimed that racial discrimination was taking place, due to the state of Texas reinforcing racially segregated housing patterns, through the manner in which they gave out tax credits.

“In this case, what the group suing the government contended was that tax credits are going to be less available to those with low income, and that limits social mobility of people,” Unger stated, before asking those in attendance to question what was driving these patterns, and whether the government should step in. 

“The reason it’s so segregated now is not because people are trying to be discriminatory, it’s just the way it’s been set up in the past makes it so that people who live in a poor area happen to be Hispanic and black,” Cassandra Spano, a junior, added to the discussion. 

Unger went on to pose other questions and explain more details involving the case, saying, “So the question becomes: ‘if a law is racially neutral on its face, yet it yields disparities in the allocation of goods and services, is that enough to make a claim in courts of rights violations or housing affairs?’”

He then added that there are disputes between Democrats and Republicans in other cases about whether they should just think about the way things are done today or whether discriminatory historical practices are relevant even if discrimination has ostensibly stopped. The topic of racial steering was brought up. Racial steering is the idea that if you were black you would be showed certain kinds of areas in certain kinds of neighborhoods. Even today, racial minorities will be shown fewer properties, in less desirable locations and at lower price ranges than their white counterparts – regardless of their income statistics. Unger opened up the discussion to the audience by posing the question of whether America today is racially segregated in housing.

Solomon Nasseri, a junior, who also happens to sell real estate, answered with his opinion. “I feel that it’s economic racism because the fact that certain races can’t afford to live in certain places,” Nasseri stated. “I mean everyone wants to live in a certain area where they could raise a family or whatever reason; it’s just an economic thing on whether they can afford the house or not.” Another student agreed with Nasseri’s point, commenting that just because real estate agents may show you one house, it does not prohibit you from looking at other houses. However, both were quickly rebutted by senior Brianna Setmirky.

“But that’s why you go to a real estate agent. To see other houses because you don’t know which ones you like or are for sale. The real estate agents’ boss can say which houses to show the African-American,” Setmirky commented.

Unger ended the discussion by saying that in regards to ending this matter, we cannot be sure what the future holds or what might happen.