Document Type


Publication Date



In the early 1970’s, a developer sought a zoning change to a parcel of land in Arlington Heights, Illinois that would allow for the construction of government-subsidized low income housing. Arlington Heights denied the zoning change and the developer and several potential residents of the housing sued Arlington Heights arguing that this denial violated both equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). In Vil. Of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Dev., 429 U.S. 252 (1977), the case reached the United States Supreme Court on the equal protection issue and the Court held that the plaintiffs did not establish an equal protection violation because they failed to prove that a racially discriminatory purpose had motivated the denial of the zoning change by Arlington Heights officials. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower courts to consider plaintiffs’ claims under the FHA.

On remand, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the denial of the zoning change that the developer sought from Arlington Heights had the racially discriminatory effect of perpetuating residential racial segregation and unless another low income housing project could feasibly be built there, the denial of the zoning change constituted a violation of the FHA. After this decision by the Seventh Circuit, the parties entered into a consent decree in which Arlington Heights agreed to annex another parcel of property and allow the construction of the developer’s low income housing project on it. The developer’s project was eventually built on the land that Arlington Heights annexed and the low income housing project opened to residents in 1983.

The construction of the developer’s low income housing project in Arlington Heights was facilitated by the Seventh Circuit’s decision that a denial of housing that has a racially discriminatory effect may violate the FHA even if a racially discriminatory purpose is not established. In 2013, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a regulation that indicated that the FHA could be violated by housing decisions that had a discriminatory effect. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court definitively determined in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community v. ICP, 135 S.Ct. 2507 (2015) that a housing practice that has a disproportionately adverse effect on minorities and otherwise lacks a legitimate rationale is actionable under the FHA.

The purpose of this article is to analyze how the Seventh Circuit’s decision in the Arlington Heights case represents an important judicial precedent for using the FHA to challenge housing decisions that perpetuate housing segregation. The article also seeks to explain how the Seventh Circuit’s decision that Arlington Heights must accommodate this construction of government-subsidized low income housing in order to comply with the FHA presages interpretations of the FHA by both HUD and the Supreme Court that occurred more 35 years later. These broad interpretations of the FHA create valuable tools to achieve one of the primary goals of the FHA-the residential integration of the races in the United States. Finally, this article will address 2018 efforts by HUD to review its 2013 regulation in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in 2015. This article will examine how HUD’s regulatory review process might alter how the discriminatory effects standard is applied to determine whether the FHA has been violated.