Cities Gain in Fair Housing Battle: More Hurdles Lie Ahead in Congress

By Whitman, Cameron | Nation's Cities Weekly, March 2, 1998 | Go to article overview

Cities Gain in Fair Housing Battle: More Hurdles Lie Ahead in Congress


Whitman, Cameron, Nation's Cities Weekly


Cities scored their first victory on the municipal preemption front last week when a House subcommittee voted to return some land use and zoning authority back to cities and towns with regard to the siting of group homes in neighborhoods. But the measure faces a long, difficult road in Congress.

The bill, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1998, H.R.3206, would bar the federal government from initiating housing discrimination investigations against cities and towns and suing a municipality for housing discrimination when a city requires a group home operator to comply with non-discriminatory local zoning ordinances, including the exhaustion of local administrative remedies. The bill would amend the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Fair Housing Act Amendments (FHAA) to protect the right of local governments to use nondiscriminatory regulations which further the objectives of public safety and preserving residential neighborhoods, including regulation of the:

* Number of unrelated persons permitted to occupy a dwelling housing recovering drug addicts and alcoholics;

* Proximity and density of group residential facilities; and

* Occupancy of such facilities by convicts who have committed serious crimes and juvenile offenders serving their sentences.

In addition, the bill would clarify what constitutes a "family" or "familial status." NLC is seeking this clarification due to federal court decisions which have ruled that group homes housing youth who are under juvenile detention and under 18 with institutional guardians are equivalent to a family and must be accorded familial status protections under federal fair housing laws.

NLC President Brian O'Neill urged city and town leaders across the country to thank the bipartisan sponsors of the bill and to contact their entire Congressional delegation to urge support: "We are grateful that the message we sent in December from Philadelphia at our Congress of Cities on the federal preemption issues related to the siting of group homes has found an audience. We must thank Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-Ca.), Charles Canady (R-Fla.), and Jane Harman (D-Calif.) for their efforts to work with us and their leadership on this issue. Through their initiative and sponsorship of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1998, we now have a bill which would return some zoning and use controls to local governments."

"But," O'Neill warned, "To become law, the bill will need the active support of municipalities across the country - first to make it through the House Judiciary Committee and then for a vote of the full House. The Senate will be the next hurdle."

These proposed changes to the fair housing law have come after more than five years of work within the membership of the National League of Cities. NLC's Community and Economic Development Steering Committee began work on the issue of group home siting and federal preemption after growing frustration with federal law sutis against cities. Those efforts culminated with the unanimous adoption of a resolution calling for Congressional action in last December.

To help local officials learn more about the implementation of the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Housing Act Amendments, NLC has held workshops and seminars for local officials where experts from the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development have attempted to clarify the law. …

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