Langlois v. Abington Housing Authority, Civ. Action No. 98-12336-NG (D. Mass. 11/27/2002), Civ. Action No. 98-12336-NG.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtNancy Gertner
PartiesKELLEY LANGLOIS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. ABINGTON HOUSING AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCiv. Action No. 98-12336-NG.
Decision Date27 November 2002

Page 1

KELLEY LANGLOIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
Civ. Action No. 98-12336-NG.
United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.
November 27, 2002.

Christopher Whittingham, Southeastern Massachusetts, Legal Assistance Corporation, New Bedford, MA, Amy Copperman, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Boston, MA, Judith Liben, Mass. Law Reform Institute, Boston, MA, for Plaintiffs KELLEY LANGLOIS, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated YASMINE RIVERA, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, LISSETT FABIAN, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, ANNETTE STEWART, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, MASS COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS.



NANCY GERTNER, District Judge.

This case challenges the administration of Section 8 rental assistance programs by eight Massachusetts suburban public housing authorities ("PHAs").1 The plaintiffs are four racial minority, lower-income women residing in Randolph and Brockton, the class of similarly situated individuals that they represent,2 and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless ("MCH").3 The communities in which the PHAs are situated are predominantly white, with low percentages of racial minority residents and a low overall rate of poverty.

The plaintiffs' principal challenge is to the use of a preference for local residents in determining a Section 8 applicant's position on the waiting list, as well as the logistics of the application processes. Suing under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, they maintain that the PHAs' policies effectively discriminated against minorities by favoring local, predominantly white applicants and violated the PHAs' duties to target housing to extremely low-income families, and to "affirmatively further" fair housing.

Defendants counter on a number of fronts, both procedural and substantive. They claim that recent decisional law casts doubt on the use of § 1983 to enforce the very statutes, regulations, and executive orders plaintiffs cite. Moreover, even if § 1983 is available to enforce these provisions, defendants deny that they have violated any of their legal obligations under them. Rather, they allege that the 1998 Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act ("QHWRA") allows them to administer Section 8 housing as they have done, namely with preferences for local residents.

The following issues, then, are joined:

(1) Can § 1983 be used to enforce the particular statutes, regulations, and orders at issue here? I conclude that § 1983 enforcement is proper here, based on the language of the statutes and their implementing regulations, on the one hand, and § 1983's unique history and expansive language, on the other. Of all the cases in which § 1983 has been used to enforce state statutes and regulations, few come closer to the statute's purpose and history since its enactment post Civil War than cases like the instant one — cases that seek to enforce antidiscrimination laws in general, and fair housing provisions in particular.

(2) Have the plaintiffs met the standard for summary judgment on the question of whether the law has been violated, particularly given the 1998 Act's provisions on local housing preferences? I conclude that — with certain limitations described below — the plaintiffs have proven such violations, notwithstanding the language of the QHWRA. The Act's reference to "local needs and priorities" does not give the PHAs carte blanche to effect preferences for local residents. Rather, it was intended to encourage local authorities to determine the kind of housing mix that suits local needs, within the framework of the applicable laws.

For the following reasons, Langlois et al.'s motion for summary judgment [docket entry #76] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, and Abington Housing Authority et al.'s motion for summary judgment [docket entry #86] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

A. Facts
1. The Section 8 Program

In 1974, Congress established the Section 8 program as a vehicle for providing an adequate supply of housing for low-income families. Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, Pub.L. No. 93-383, tit. II, § 8(a), 88 Stat. 633, 662 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1437f).4 The component of the Section 8 program at issue here has been known variously as the Section 8 Existing Housing Program, the Certificate/Voucher5 Program, or the Section 8 "Tenant-Based" Program. See 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o) (2002); Comer v. Cisneros, 37 F.3d 775, 781 (2d Cir. 1994). The Program provides subsidies to private landlords. In Massachusetts, about 44,000 Section 8 tenant-based subsidies are administered by about 130 local housing authorities ("PHAs") and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

Under the tenant-based provisions of the Section 8 Program, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") enters into annual contracts with PHAs to fund Section 8 vouchers. See 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o). In connection with this contract, each PHA must submit a plan to HUD describing the administrative details of the Section 8 program and its compliance with federal and state equal housing requirements. 42 U.S.C. § 1437c-1(b) (annual plan requirement), 1437c-1(d)(15) (2002) (civil rights certification requirement); 24 C.F.R. § 982.53, 982.54; see also 60 Fed. Reg. 34660, 34661 (July 3, 1995).6

To participate in a Section 8 program, an eligible family7 may apply to any state PHA. Each PHA maintains a waiting list and then awards subsidies — in the form of vouchers, as they become available — to eligible participants on its list. 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(13)(J). Generally, participants may use their vouchers to rent eligible dwelling units anywhere in the state with rents meeting the fair market rent standards set by HUD. 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(r)(1). A Section 8 family conveys its voucher together with the family's previously determined rent contribution — generally about 30% of its income — to the landlord, who in turn forwards the voucher to the PHA for the remainder of the rent. 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(a), 1437f(o)(2)(A)(i). HUD then reimburses the local PHA. 24 C.F.R. § 982.151 (annual contributions contract).

The federal administrative requirements for the PHAs have shifted over the past several years. It is the latest change in the federal requirements that the PHAs identify as the basis for the disputed changes they have made in their programs. It is useful to outline that history:

a. 1980-1995: Federal Preferences

From 1980 until 1995, Congress required the PHAs to rank eligible families on their waiting lists according to three statutorily mandated selection preferences ("federal preferences"): (1) families who occupy substandard housing (including the homeless); (2) families who are involuntarily displaced; and (3) families who are paying more than 50% of their family income to rent. 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(c)(4)(A)(i), 1437f(o)(3)(B) (repealed October 21, 1998).8

b. 1995-1998: Administrative Suspension of the Mandatory Preferences

These mandatory "federal preferences" were suspended from 1995 through 1998 in various HUD Appropriations Acts in which Congress gave PHAs some discretion to set their own admissions preferences. See Pub.L. No. 104-99, § 402(d), 110 Stat. 26, 41 (Jan. 26, 1996); Pub.L. No. 104-204, § 201(c)(2), 110 Stat. 2874, 2893 (Sept. 26, 1996); Pub.L. No. 105-65, § 201(d)(2), 111 Stat. 1344, 1364 (Oct. 27, 1997).

c. QHWRA: Permanent Repeal of Mandatory Preferences Coupled with Targeting of Extremely Low Income Families

On October 21, 1998, President Clinton signed the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 ("QHWRA"), which permanently repealed the Section 8 federal preferences, giving PHAs discretion within certain limits to establish local preferences in their agency plans. Pub.L. No. 105-276, § 514(b), 112 Stat. 2461, 2547-48 (amending 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(d)(1)(A)) ("[F]or the purpose of selecting families to be assisted, the public housing agency may establish local preferences, consistent with the public housing agency plan submitted under section 5A by the public housing agency . . . ."); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o)(6)(A)(i) (2002) ("Each public housing agency may establish a system for making tenant-based assistance under this subsection available on behalf of eligible families that provides preference for such assistance to eligible families having certain characteristics . . . .").9 The question raised by this litigation is the scope of that discretion.

Both the statutory text and the legislative history reflect Congress' concern that federal over-regulation was impeding the PHAs' ability to function effectively. Specifically, Congress was concerned that federal preferences did not afford PHAs sufficient flexibility to channel assistance where the local need was greatest. See, e.g., Pub.L. No. 105-276, § 514(a)(1), 112 Stat. at 2547 (amending 42 U.S.C. § 1437d(c)(4) to require that PHAs develop systems of preferences "based upon local housing needs and priorities"). Congress also felt that removing the federal preferences and allowing preferences based on local needs would ultimately lead to diminished residential segregation by income. See, e.g., Pub.L. No. 105-276, § 502(a)(3), 112 Stat. at 2520 (noting Congress' finding that "the public housing system is plagued by a series of problems, including the concentration of very poor people in very poor neighborhoods"); id. § 502(b)(3), 112 Stat. at 2521 (articulating a statutory purpose of, inter alia, "facilitating mixed income communities and decreasing concentrations of poverty in public...

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