As one of the most important fair housing lawsuits of the past decade, Thompson sought to eradicate the legacy of racially segregated public housing in Baltimore, Maryland, the hometown of Thurgood Marshall, LDF’s first Director-Counsel. Baltimore’s public housing has suffered from nearly a century of segregation that has left thousands of low-income African-American families perpetually locked in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. By 1995, when Thompson was filed, housing experts considered Baltimore to be one of the most racially segregated cities in America.
In January 2005, after nearly ten years of litigation, Federal District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis gave public housing residents a precedent-setting civil rights victory. Judge Garbis held that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by unfairly concentrating African-American public housing residents in the most impoverished, segregated areas of Baltimore City. He found that HUD’s programs “failed to achieve significant desegregation” in the Baltimore region. Judge Garbis further faulted HUD for treating Baltimore City as “an island reservation for use as a container for all of the poor of a contiguous region.” Judge Garbis ruled that HUD must take affirmative steps to implement an effective regional strategy for promoting fair housing opportunities for African-American public housing residents throughout the Baltimore region.
After issuing his January 2005 order, Judge Garbis directed further proceedings to determine whether HUD’s conduct also violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws and to decide on an appropriate remedy for the plaintiff class of approximately 14,000 African-American families who are tenants, former tenants, and prospective tenants of Baltimore City public housing developments. The parties went to trial in the spring of 2006, and post-trial proceedings were completed that summer.
At the 2006 trial, HUD’s own witnesses confirmed that the Baltimore region’s public housing is, and always has been, racially segregated and has never offered low-income African-Americans any meaningful opportunity to live in integrated areas of the Baltimore region. LDF’s proposed remedy called on HUD to remedy the harm caused by its discriminatory policies. Testifying in support of LDF’s proposed remedy were leading housing policy experts including Jill Khadduri, Xavier Briggs and Margery Turner, Camille Zubrinsky Charles, John Powell, and Gerald Webster.
In November 2012, the Court approved a historic settlement to resolve the case. At the court hearing approving the settlement, several African-American families, including current and former residents of Baltimore public housing, spoke poignantly in favor of the settlement. “This is a wonderful program. It gave me a chance to start a new and better life,” said client Michelle Green, another participant in the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program who spoke at the hearing today. “It’s not just about housing. They try to help low-income people branch out and do their best.”
The settlement, approved by the Court, includes a number of initiatives that HUD will undertake:
In addition, the settlement provides for completion of the remaining housing opportunities required by the 1996 Thompson partial consent decree and related court orders. Most have been completed, but a few projects are still in progress.
Thompson is but one of the numerous lawsuits that LDF has litigated to enforce the Fair Housing Act of 1968, including challenges to racially discriminatory practices by realty agencies, discriminatory site selection for public housing and tenant assignment policies, and the failure of federally-funded housing programs to avoid concentrating African-Americans and the poor in urban centers or traditionally black residential areas.
LDF’s co-counsel in Thompson include the ACLU of Maryland, which filed the original lawsuit in 1995, as well as Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, Brown Goldstein & Levy LLP, and Levy Ratner LLP.