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PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION v. CHESTER HOUSING AUTHORITY (10/16/74)

decided: October 16, 1974.

PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION, APPELLANT,
v.
CHESTER HOUSING AUTHORITY



Appeal from order of Commonwealth Court, No. 506 C.D. 1972, in case of Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Chester Housing Authority.

COUNSEL

Sanford Kahn, for appellant.

Francis G. Pileggi, with him Pileggi and Desmond, for appellee.

Jones, C. J. Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Jones and Mr. Justice Eagen concur in the result.

Author: Roberts

[ 458 Pa. Page 68]

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission appeals from the order of the Commonwealth Court affirming with modification a unanimous Commission order. Chester Housing Authority v. Human Relations Commission, 9 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 415, 305 A.2d

[ 458 Pa. Page 69751]

(1973). The Commission had ordered the Chester Housing Authority, inter alia, to take affirmative steps to remedy racial segregation found by the Commission to exist in four public housing projects administered by the Authority. Because the Commonwealth Court concluded that two of the Commission's findings of fact were not supported by substantial evidence,*fn1 it held unenforceable certain parts of the Commission's order. The Commission sought review of the Commonwealth Court's modification and we granted the petition for allowance of appeal.*fn2 We agree with the Commission that the record contains substantial evidence supporting its adjudication. We therefore reinstate those portions of the Commission's order stricken by the Commonwealth Court, and affirm that court's order so modified.

On May 1, 1970, the Commission filed a complaint alleging that the Authority maintained under its supervision four housing projects that were racially segregated in violation of section 5(h) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.*fn3 It was also charged that actions of the Authority aided and abetted racial segregation of public schools in the City of Chester and therefore contravened section 5(e) of the Act.*fn4 The

[ 458 Pa. Page 70]

Commission then by investigation determined that probable cause existed for crediting the allegations in its complaint.*fn5

As part of its investigation, the Commission obtained the names of all persons who became tenants in the four projects from January, 1970 to May, 1971. From a list of present tenants a random selection of names was made. The sample revealed seventeen incidents of racial discrimination on the part of the Authority in the leasing of apartments. The incidents were scattered throughout the test period, and each example showed the same practice. When a black prospective tenant applied, he would be denied housing until a vacancy arose in a "black" project, even though there existed a vacancy in the "white" project.*fn6 Likewise, a white prospective tenant would not be offered an available apartment in a "black" project, but would instead be kept waiting until a vacancy occurred in the "white" project.

After an August 5, 1971, public hearing, the Commission entered a unanimous adjudication containing ten compound findings of fact*fn7 and five conclusions of

[ 458 Pa. Page 71]

    law.*fn8 The Commission accepted as true the proof of the seventeen individual acts of discrimination. It further found that as a result of a pattern of discrimination, the four projects in question were racially segregated. The findings continue by stating that the racial imbalance of these four projects increased the racial segregation of Chester public schools.*fn9 On the basis of these findings and the conclusions of law, the Commission ordered the Authority to cease and desist from its present tenant selection procedure and to affirmatively remedy the existing racial imbalance.*fn10

The Authority excepted to almost every finding of fact, conclusion of law, and portion of the order, and took a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. After reviewing the evidence the lower court concluded that substantial evidence demonstrated "that certain tenants had been routed through [the Authority's] tenant placement procedure into projects whose tenant majority (usually entirety) corresponded to the tenant's race." 9 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 424, 305 A.2d at 755.*fn11 However, the Commonwealth Court did not affirm the Commission's order in toto, but rather set aside portions of it. Stricken from the order were the paragraphs directing the Authority to cease renting apartments in the "black" projects to blacks and in the "white" project to whites until the racial composition

[ 458 Pa. Page 72]

    in each reflected the overall racial composition in Chester's public housing; to design, have approved by the Commission, and implement a plan to bring about this uniform racial composition; to make monthly reports for two years to the Commission on the progress of the approved plan; and to meet with the Chester School District to draft a plan for the priority placement of tenants with school-age children in the to-be-integrated projects. Only the Commission appealed.*fn12

Despite its agreement with the Commission's proof of racial discrimination, the Commonwealth Court believed that these violations of the Human Relations Act did not justify the Commission's order. Two complaints were voiced. The Commission had neither proved the duration of the unlawful discriminatory practices nor shown that these seventeen acts were the sole cause of the racial imbalance.*fn13 Aside from noting that the Human Relations Act does not explicitly require either that a particular number of acts must be proved or that

[ 458 Pa. Page 73]

    race must be the sole factor in bringing about discrimination before the Commission may order affirmative action, 43 P.S. § 959 (Supp. 1974), we find it unnecessary to address these assertions of the lower court. In our view, substantial evidence supporting the Commission's adjudication can be found in the figures of the racial composition of the four housing projects.

Evidence of the racial composition of the four housing projects was introduced without objection and has never been challenged. The figures amply demonstrate racial imbalance.*fn14

White tenants Black tenants

Lamokin Village 0 346

McCaffery Village 347 0

Ruth L. Bennett Homes 0 385

William Penn Village 20 257

These statistics paint as vivid a picture of racial segregation as can be imagined. Two projects were occupied 100% by blacks, another almost 100%, and apartments in a fourth were occupied exclusively by whites.

Further testimony at the public hearing revealed this almost-100% segregation to be a long-standing pattern.*fn15 The manager of the Ruth Bennett project

[ 458 Pa. Page 74]

    testified that to his knowledge there had never been a white tenant there. Similarly, the manager of Lamokin Village stated that the six years from 1964 to 1970 never saw a white occupy an apartment there. Since at least 1956, the William Penn project, according to its manager, maintained approximately the same racial composition as that existing in 1969. Except for a few black families living there at some unspecified time in the past, McCaffrey has always been occupied exclusively by whites.

Nearly identical statistics were before this Court in Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Chester School District, 427 Pa. 157, 233 A.2d 290 (1967). There, we upheld an extensive Commission order designed to desegregate Chester's public schools. Necessarily, we held that the Human Relations Act reached the problem of de facto segregation. "Had the Legislature intended to reach by the 1961 amendments only de jure segregation, its legislative pronouncements would have been unnecessary. The 1954 Brown*fn16 decision made it eminently clear that de jure segregation -- racial isolation produced by the acts of public officials -- is unconstitutional. A legislative pronouncement to this effect, and this effect only, would be mere gild on the lily." Id. at 169, 233 A.2d at 296.

This Court has not hesitated to follow the implications of Chester School District. In Balsbaugh v. Rowland,

[ 458 Pa. Page 75447]

Pa. 423, 290 A.2d 85 (1972), we were asked to decide the constitutionality vel non of an affirmative action plan initiated by the Harrisburg School District in part to correct de facto segregation in its schools. We concluded that corrective measures, including pupil assignment and bussing, were constitutionally permissible means of overcoming segregation whether de jure or de facto. Id. at 436-39, 290 A.2d at 92-93. And in school segregation situations*fn17 the Commonwealth Court has sedulously enforced the rights announced in our decisions. Philadelphia School District v. Human Relations Commission, 6 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 281, 294 A.2d 410 (1972), aff'd sub nom., Uniontown Area School District v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 455 Pa. 52, 313 A.2d 156 (1973) (upholding

[ 458 Pa. Page 76]

Commission order directing five school districts to remedy de facto segregation).

While these cases arose in the context of racially segregated schools, the statutory scheme does not treat housing differently from schooling for purposes of ending racial discriminations. "The opportunity for an individual . . . to obtain all the accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges . . . of commercial housing without discrimination because of race . . . [is] declared to be [a] civil [right]. . . ." 43 P.S. § 953 (Supp. 1974).

Removal of racial discrimination and assurance of equal opportunity in housing are strong and fundamental policies of this Commonwealth. The Human Relations Act's declaration of policy makes this explicit. "The denial of equal . . . housing . . . opportunities because of [racial] discrimination . . . threaten[s] the peace, health, safety and general welfare of the Commonwealth and its inhabitants." 43 P.S. § 952(a) (Supp. 1974). In Chester School District, we reasoned that racial imbalance triggered the Commission's authority under the Human Relations Act to order affirmative action because to hold otherwise would ignore "completely the legislative conclusion that racial segregation in public schools, whatever its source, threatens 'the peace, health, safety and general welfare of the Commonwealth and its inhabitants.'" 427 Pa. at 170, 233 A.2d at 297. Today we reach a similar conclusion with respect to racial imbalance in housing covered by the Act. Mindful of our statutory duty to construe the provisions of the Human Relations Act "liberally for the accomplishment of [its] purposes," 43 P.S. § 962(a) (1964), we conclude the purposes of the Act would be vindicated only by holding, see Chester School District, that the Act covers de facto segregation in housing.

[ 458 Pa. Page 77]

Courts have resolved that blacks (and other minority groups)*fn18 are entitled to a meaningful opportunity to live in integrated housing.*fn19 Otero v. New York Housing Authority, 484 F.2d 1122 (2d Cir. 1973), is instructive. The regulations of the New York Housing Authority required it to give preference in newly-built public housing to those residents whose homes had been destroyed in order to build that housing. The Authority sought to show that adherence to its regulations would result in the newly-built projects becoming segregated.*fn20

[ 458 Pa. Page 78]

If the Authority did not have to abide by its regulations, the existing racial balance in the projects and the surrounding community could be maintained. The district courts*fn21 held that the Authority had to comply with its regulations, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. That court reasoned that the Authority's constitutional and statutory duty affirmatively to integregate public housing superseded its obligation to follow its own regulations.*fn22 Therefore, "the Authority may limit the number

[ 458 Pa. Page 79]

    of apartments to be made available to persons of white or non-white races, including minority groups, where it can show that such action is essential to promote a racially balanced community and to avoid concentrated racial pockets that will result in a segregated community." Id. at 1140.

Crow v. Brown, 332 F. Supp. 382 (N.D. Ga. 1971), aff'd, 457 F.2d 788 (5th Cir. 1972), involved a challenge to a plan to disperse public housing, which the court found to attract largely poor blacks, in areas outside Atlanta's ghettoes. The selected sites lay in Fulton County, unincorporated but subject to the jurisdiction of the Atlanta Housing Authority. Officials of Fulton County, who by various stratagems had frustrated the implementation of the plan, were held to have acted unconstitutionally. The heart of the district court's opinion is the thoughtful conclusion that "[f]or better or worse, both by legislative act and judicial decision, this nation is committed to ...


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