Public Housing Near Pittsburgh: Allegheny County Tenants Win Suit for Scattered Sites, Section 8 Mobility

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in December, approved of a consent decree that represents perhaps the most comprehensive resolution of a public housing desegregation case to date. This case, Sanders. et al. v. HUD. et al. was filed in 1988 on behalf of 5,000 African American residents of and applicants for public and Section 8 housing in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The suit was against HUD, the Allegheny County Housing Authority, Allegheny County, and Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority. The case was litigated primarily by Thomas J. Henderson and Stacy Seicshnaydre of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Donald Driscoll of Neighborhood Legal Services in Pittsburgh. The litigation arose from a decision of HUD to relocate demolished public housing right back in the same segregated African American community in which it was originally built.

Throughout the litigation, Plaintiffs challenged federal and local housing policies that created public housing on a segregated basis and perpetuated segregation in public housing, both through the siting and occupancy of the housing. After the litigation was well under way, HUD found in a Title VI Compliance Review that for over 50 years, the local housing authority developed and managed public housing according to one consistent theme-segregate by race.

The Decree, negotiated between the parties during July and August of 1994, attempts to remedy the fact that a vast majority of communities in the County have closed their doors to low income, African American residents. The concentration of segregated black public housing in a handful of identifiably 'black neighborhoods demonstrates that there were only a few communities in which African Americans were "permitted" to live. Further, the disinvestment and decline that have occurred in these neighborhoods demonstrate that such a restriction on housing opportunity has had a very real impact on the lives of low income, African American public housing residents. The Decree provides that all newly constructed public housing must be scattered site housing (12 units or less) and must be built in areas that have not opened their doors to low income people of color in the past. The Decree also contemplates that obsolete units or developments will be demolished and replaced in nonimpacted neighborhoods. In addition, in conjunction with a newly created "mobility program," 450 additional desegregative Section 8 certificates will be provided to class members, along with counseling and support services, to give them the option of gaining access to educational and employment opportunities that may exist outside of their own communities.

To help turn around those communities in which public housing and the use of Section 8 has been confined, the Decree provides that 25% of the County's Community Development Block Grant budget over 7 years will be used to target those communities for community and economic development and affordable housing opportunities. This CDBG money, which will amount to roughly 4 million dollars per year for 7 years, will be used to leverage other federal, state, and private funds.

The Decree is designed to redirect resources so that more homeownership assistance and development of affordable housing and employment opportunities can take place in impoverished African American communities, while traditional public housing assistance can be used in white communities of higher income populations where such assistance was not used in the past.

The Decree calls for the merger of the public housing and Section 8 waiting lists in a year. Individuals on the two lists will first be cross-listed, so that individuals may be offered, but not penalized for rejecting, a unit for which they did not apply. After one year, the lists will be merged so that an applicant will be offered a range of all available desegregative housing opportunities, which may include conventional public housing, Section 8 tenant-based assistance, and other assisted housing units. Each applicant will receive counseling by a non-profit Fair Housing Services Center (FHSC), created under the Decree, at the time he or she is made an offer or offers. The FHSC will assist applicants in considering and making desegregative moves.

The Decree provides African American tenants and applicants the opportunity to reside in communities not previously available by unifying, the application, referral and selection process for public, federally assisted, and Section 8 housing. This is done both through the merging of the public housing and Section 8 waiting lists and the modification of assisted housing providers affirmative fair housing marketing plans. Assisted housing providers will be offered a safe harbor from HUD monitoring of their affirmative fair housing marketing plans if they agree to fill their units from a central list administered by the FHSC.