Case Combats Inner-City Segregation and Poverty

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has joined the ACLU of Maryland as co-counsel in Thompson v. HUD. They are representing African Americans in a Baltimore case with far-reaching implications about the concentration of Blacks in public housing in urban centers across America.

The ACLU of Maryland filed the lawsuit in 1995 on behalf of a class of approximately 14,000 African American tenants, former tenants, and prospective tenants of Baltimore City public housing developments. Plaintiffs alleged that HUD denied Baltimore’s African American public housing residents opportunities to locate throughout the region and instead concentrated them in predominantly minority areas within the city limits in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

In January 2005, the District Court found HUD liable for failing to take affirmative steps to implement an effective regional strategy for desegregation and poverty deconcentration in Baltimore. The court found that HUD’s programs “failed to achieve significant desegregation in Baltimore City.” As Judge Marvin J. Garbis explained, “Baltimore City should not be viewed as an island reservation for use as a container for all of the poor of a contiguous region.” The case will proceed to a remedial trial in July 2005.

“Now that the Court has found HUD liable, we look forward to working with HUD to find a reasonable solution to the problem of segregation in Baltimore,” said Theodore M. Shaw, LDF Director-Counsel and President. “Significant investment must be made in the communities in which poverty is currently concentrated, so that those communities are not further ‘left behind.'”

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. More than 70 percent of the City’s public housing still in use today was built as segregated housing. By 1995, when Thompson was filed, housing experts considered Baltimore to be one of the most racially segregated cities in America.

A year later, the court approved a partial consent decree that called for 3,000 new housing opportunities for public housing families after several high-rise projects were demolished. The Court subsequently held a trial on plaintiffs’ claims alleging a pattern or practice of discrimination by HUD and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City in December 2003.

“This is a case of national importance and deserves the wisdom and experience that LDF (founded by Baltimore’s own Thurgood Marshall) will bring,” said Susan Goering, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. “I have no doubt that, together with LDF, we will further the goal of more equitable housing for the entire Baltimore region.”

Since Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968, LDF has litigated a number of lawsuits seeking to enforce the provisions of the Act, including challenges to racially discriminatory practices by realty agencies, discriminatory site selection for public housing and tenant assignment policies, and failure of federally-funded housing programs to avoid concentrating African Americans and the poor in urban centers or traditionally black residential areas.