City of Kyle officials can barely conceal their glee over a federal judge’s ruling this week that minimum lot sizes and building standards for single-family homes adopted in 2003 do not discriminate against minorities.
In 2005, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed suit arguing that Kyle’s revised subdivision ordinance pushed the average price of a starter home from $100,000 to $133,000, thereby disproportionately impacting prospective black and Latino homeowners.
The potentially precedent-setting case was watched by closely by municipalities statewide who feared the consequences of court decision that equated citywide zoning action with discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.
On Monday, more than a year after the February 2008 trial, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in the city’s favor.
““This is a clear and decisive victory, not only for the City of Kyle, but for all cities everywhere,” Kyle city manager Tom Mattis said. “We believe that is was a thinly veiled attempt by the Home Builders Association to thwart a city’s right to decide how to best plan and direct growth. It is also clear to me that the Austin HBA thought they could intimidate the city of Kyle with this lawsuit. I guess they know better now.”
Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez said, “Had the HBA prevailed in this suit, every city would have been in jeopardy of losing their ability to make decisions on how to best plan and direct growth based on the special needs and circumstances of the city.”
In November 2003, the Kyle city council approved a revised zoning ordinance that required single-family residences be at least 1,600 square feet, an increase from 1,400 square feet, on lots no smaller than 8,190 square feet, 20 percent larger than the previous standard. The new ordinance also requires new homes be built with 100 percent masonry and have garages at least 480 square feet.
In his findings released this week, Yeakel said that even had the plaintiffs proved the ordinance increased the cost of single-family homes by one-third, the increase would not necessarily have constituted discrimination. He wrote, “Without an analysis that considers supply and demand and other available affordable-housing alternatives, plaintiffs cannot make a sufficient showing that the revised ordinances make or even will make dwellings, as defined under the FHA, unavailable to minorities proportionately more often than to non-minorities in the city.”
He continued, “The Court finds this to be an incomplete analysis and hold that comparing affordability pools alone is insufficient to establish a prima facie disparate-impact or discriminatory-effects case. To hold otherwise would restrict municipalities’ ability to engage in zoning changes in an inflationary economy, as any change to an ordinance that resulted in a price increase would arguably impact minorities more than the ethnic majority in the area examined. To be persuasive, the statistical data must reflect or predict that there will be an actual shortage of housing available to the area’s minorities.”
In addition, Yeakel rejected that increased building permit fees approved in October 2005 to cover the cost of litigation amounts to retaliation.
Represented by Bradford Bullock of the Austin-based Wm. M. McKamie, P.C. law firm, Kyle argued that it had a compelling governmental interest in setting zoning and building standards. Because he rejected the statistical analysis on which the plaintiffs’ case was based, Yeakel did not rule on that aspect of the case nor on whether the plaintiffs had standing to bring the case without being able to produce someone who had actually been adversely affected by the ordinance.