Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation

Citation50 L.Ed.2d 450,429 U.S. 252,97 S.Ct. 555
Decision Date11 January 1977
Docket NumberNo. 75-616,75-616
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Respondent Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. (MHDC), a nonprofit developer, contracted to purchase a tract within the boundaries of petitioner Village in order to build racially integrated low- and moderate-income housing. The contract was contingent upon securing rezoning as well as federal housing assistance. MHDC applied to the Village for the necessary rezoning from a single-family to a multiple-family (R-5) classification. At a series of Village Plan Commission public meetings, both supporters and opponents touched upon the fact that the project would probably be racially integrated. Opponents also stressed zoning factors that pointed toward denial of MHDC's application: The location had always been zoned single-family, and the Village's apartment policy called for limited use of R-5 zoning, primarily as a buffer between single-family development and commercial or manufacturing districts, none of which adjoined the project's proposed location. After the Village denied rezoning, MHDC and individual minority respondents filed this suit for injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging that the denial was racially discriminatory and violated, inter alia, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act. The District Court held that the Village's rezoning denial was motivated not by racial discrimination but by a desire to protect property values and maintain the Village's zoning plan. Though approving those conclusions, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the "ultimate effect" of the rezoning denial was racially discriminatory and observing that the denial would disproportionately affect blacks, particularly in view of the fact that the general surburban area, though economically expanding, continued to be marked by residential segregation. Held:

1. MHDC and at least one individual respondent have standing to bring this action. Pp. 260-264.

(a) MHDC has met the constitutional standing requirements by showing injury fairly traceable to petitioners' acts. The challenged action of the Village stands as an absolute barrier to constructing the housing for which MHDC had contracted, a barrier which could be removed if injunctive relief were granted. MHDC, despite the contingency provisions in its contract, has suffered economic injury based upon the expenditures it made in support of its rezoning petition, as well as noneconomic injury from the defeat of its objective, embodied in its specific project, of making suitable low-cost housing available where such housing is scarce. Pp. 261-263.

(b) Whether MHDC has standing to assert the constitutional rights of its prospective minority tenants need not be decided, for at least one of the individual respondents, a Negro working in the Village and desirous of securing low-cost housing there but who now lives 20 miles away, has standing. Focusing on the specific MHDC project, he has adequately alleged an "actionable causal relationship" between the Village's zoning practices and his asserted injury. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 507, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2209, 45 L.Ed.2d 343. Pp. 263-264.

2. Proof of a racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and respondents failed to carry their burden of proving that such an intent or purpose was a motivating factor in the Village's rezoning decision. Pp. 264-271.

(a) Official action will not be held unconstitutional solely because it results in a racially disproportionate impact. "(Such) impact is not irrelevant, but it is not the sole touchstone of an invidious racial discrimination." Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 242, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 2049, 48 L.Ed.2d 597. A racially discriminatory intent, as evidenced by such factors as disproportionate impact, the historical background of the challenged decision, the specific antecedent events, departures from normal procedures, and contemporary statements of the decisionmakers, must be shown. Pp. 264-268.

(b) The evidence does not warrant overturning the concurrent findings of both courts below that there was no proof warranting the conclusion that the Village's rezoning decision was racially motivated. Pp. 268-271.

3. The statutory question whether the rezoning decision violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was not decided by the Court of Appeals and should be considered on remand. P. 271.

517 F.2d 409, reversed and remanded.

Jack M. Siegel, Chicago, Ill., for petitioners.

F. Willis Caruso, Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Mr. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1971 respondent Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation (MHDC) applied to petitioner, the Village of Arlington Heights, Ill., for the rezoning of a 15-acre parcel from single-family to multiple-family classification. Using federal financial assistance, MHDC planned to build 190 clustered townhouse units for low- and moderate-income tenants. The Village denied the rezoning request. MHDC, joined by other plaintiffs who are also respondents here, brought suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.1 They alleged that the denial was racially discriminatory and that it violated, inter alia, the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 81, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. Following a bench trial, the District Court entered judgment for the Village, 373 F.Supp. 208 (1974), and respondents appealed. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the "ultimate effect" of the denial was racially discriminatory, and that the refusal to rezone therefore violated the Fourteenth Amendment. 517 F.2d 409 (1975). We granted the Village's petition for certiorari, 423 U.S. 1030, 96 S.Ct. 560, 46 L.Ed.2d 404 (1975), and now reverse.


Arlington Heights is a suburb of Chicago, located about 26 miles northwest of the downtown Loop area. Most of the land in Arlington Heights is zoned for detached single-family homes, and this is in fact the prevailing land use. The Village experienced substantial growth during the 1960's, but, like other communities in northwest Cook County, its population of racial minority groups remained quite low. According to the 1970 census, only 27 of the Village's 64,000 residents were black.

The Clerics of St. Viator, a religious order (Order), own an 80-acre parcel just east of the center of Arlington Heights. Part of the site is occupied by the Viatorian high school, and part by the Order's three-story novitiate building, which houses dormitories and a Montessori school. Much of the site, however, remains vacant. Since 1959, when the Village first adopted a zoning ordinance, all the land surrounding the Viatorian property has been zoned R-3, a single-family specification with relatively small minimum lot-size requirements. On three sides of the Viatorian land there are single-family homes just across a street; to the east the Viatorian property directly adjoins the backyards of other single-family homes.

The Order decided in 1970 to devote some of its land to low- and moderate-income housing. Investigation revealed that the most expeditious way to build such housing was to work through a nonprofit developer experienced in the use of federal housing subsidies under § 236 of the National Housing Act, 48 Stat. 1246, as added and amended, 12 U.S.C. § 1715z-1.2

MHDC is such a developer. It was organized in 1968 by several prominent Chicago citizens for the purpose of building low- and moderate-income housing throughout the Chicago area. In 1970 MHDC was in the process of building one § 236 development near Arlington Heights and already had provided some federally assisted housing on a smaller scale in other parts of the Chicago area.

After some negotiation, MHDC and the Order entered into a 99-year lease and an accompanying agreement of sale covering a 15-acre site in the southeast corner of the Viatorian property. MHDC became the lessee immediately, but the sale agreement was contingent upon MHDC's securing zoning clearances from the Village and § 236 housing assistance from the Federal Government. If MHDC proved unsuccessful in securing either, both the lease and the contract of sale would lapse. The agreement established a bargain purchase price of $300,000, low enough to comply with federal limitations governing land-acquisition costs for § 236 housing.

MHDC engaged an architect and proceeded with the proj- ect, to be known as Lincoln Green. The plans called for 20 two-story buildings with a total of 190 units, each unit having its own private entrance from outside. One hundred of the units would have a single bedroom, thought likely to attract elderly citizens. The remainder would have two, three, or four bedrooms. A large portion of the site would remain open, with shrubs and trees to screen the homes abutting the property to the east.

The planned development did not conform to the Village's zoning ordinance and could not be built unless Arlington Heights rezoned the parcel to R-5, its multiple-family housing classification. Accordingly, MHDC filed with the Village Plan Commission a petition for rezoning, accompanied by supporting materials describing the development and specifying that it would be subsidized under § 236. The materials made clear that one requirement under § 236 is an affirmative marketing plan designed to assure that a subsidized development is racially integrated. MHDC also submitted studies demonstrating the need for housing of this type and analyzing the probable impact of the development. To prepare for the hearings before the Plan Commission and to assure compliance with the Village building code, fire regulations, and related requirements, MHDC...

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