Supreme Judicial Court to Hear Important Housing Case


On December 8, 2015, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral argument in a fair housing case of critical importance to the communities of color served by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.  The appeal seeks to overturn a lower court’s dismissal of the complaint in Burbank v. Kargman, a case challenging a landlord’s refusal to renew project-based Section 8 subsidies. Relying on fair housing precedent, individual tenants, a tenants’ association, and the Fenway Community Development Corporation sued alleging that failure to renew Section 8 subsidies unjustifiably and disproportionately harms Black and Latino tenants. The plaintiffs are represented by Greater Boston Legal Services.

The Lawyers’ Committee co-authored an amicus brief to the Supreme Judicial Court – in partnership with the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law – urging the Court to overturn the trial court ruling. Our brief traces the history of the Fair Housing Act, outlines the harms that it is designed to remedy, and shows how the trial court ruling impermissibly diluted the Act.

“The federal Fair Housing Act is one of the crown jewels of the civil rights movement,” stated Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee.  “It has helped break down patterns of residential segregation by invalidating a broad range of polices that harm communities of color.  But there is still much work to be done, in Boston and throughout the country, to ensure true integration in housing.  That is why we need our courts to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act.”

The case concerns the 173-unit Burbank Apartments in Boston’s Fenway area, but has the potential to affect many other subsidized units throughout the Commonwealth.  In 2011, the Burbank Apartments’ owners stopped accepting project-based Section 8 subsidies.

Earlier this year, a Housing Court judge dismissed the case, finding that federal and state fair housing laws cannot be used to challenge a landlord’s decision to stop accepting Section 8 subsidies.  In May, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed to consider a direct appeal.

“As Congress has repeatedly found, residential segregation profoundly limits educational opportunities and economic mobility for communities of color, and has significant negative health consequences as well,” stated Oren M. Sellstrom, Litigation Director of the Lawyers’ Committee.  “The Fair Housing Act is intended to break down the entrenched patterns of residential segregation that cause these harms.  Our neighborhoods and communities are stronger when they are diverse and integrated.”

Oral argument in the case is scheduled to be heard at 9:00 a.m. on December 8, 2015 at the John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston.

Click here for the amicus brief.