Fair housing is an important value in our society — something that all levels of government must defend.
Recently, local developer Phil Warfield filed a lawsuit against the city for its rejection of his proposed four-lot subdivision on New Mexico Avenue.
The state courts will decide on the merits of that litigation, but Warfield’s lawsuit raised an interesting issue: Residents who opposed the development made statements that seemed to counter the idea of fair housing.
During a public hearing in November, one resident said, “I have a feeling that these homes will end up being rental units. That alone tells me this is not good.”
Another contended the homes will be sold as “low-income homes or become rentals that will result in the criminal element coming in, and our property values will depreciate. In all reality, they will turn out to be like dangerous project homes.”
Assuming that the poor are criminals is discriminatory. Period.
And the government — or anyone else for that matter — is barred from discriminating against renters and low-income people. Thankfully, such prohibitions are enshrined in federal housing law.
Warfield’s lawsuit indicates that the discriminatory statements during the hearing influenced the Las Vegas City Council. However, that’s not clear. One councilman mentioned the problem of traffic in the area of the development, while the other two voting against it didn’t make any comments.
Still, the city should make clear during such hearings that such discrimination is wrong and that it won’t be factored into council decisions.
A few years ago, the city faced a similar situation when residents loudly protested the building of a home for the developmentally disabled on the north side. A city panel initially voted against the proposal after residents objected to it on the grounds that they feared the mentally ill.
In response, a lawyer for the builder came forward to warn the city it couldn’t discriminate against people based on mental illness. The city then voted for the development.
Our country’s history is full of instances in which government allowed open discrimination, keeping targeted groups from living in certain neighborhoods. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others have been frequent victims of such discrimination.
In fairness, the City Council can’t control the public’s statements on proposed developments. But the mayor, council members and the city attorney can declare that they won’t tolerate housing discrimination, as we’re sure is the case.