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SANDERS v. UNITED STATES HUD

December 22, 1994

CHERYL SANDERS, CECILE WHITE, CHERYL ULRICH, MARTHA SURRATT, SARAH WILLIAMS, KELLY VICK, and CHRISTIANS FOR A BETTER COMMUNITY, INC., on their own behalf and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, its Secretary, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY and its Executive Director, THE REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY and its Executive Director, and THE COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY PENNSYLVANIA, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GUSTAVE DIAMOND

 DIAMOND, D.J.

 On December 12, 1994, this court conducted a hearing to determine whether it should grant final approval of a consent decree offered as a resolution of this civil rights class action. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court (1) found that the consent decree was a fair, adequate and reasonable resolution of this litigation; (2) granted final approval of the consent decree pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e); and (3) entered the consent decree as an order of the court. This opinion will formalize and supplement the court's rulings made on the record in open court during the hearing.

 I. Background

 Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in 1988 against the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), the County of Allegheny (the "County"), the Allegheny County Housing Authority ("ACHA"), and the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County ("RAAC"), to remedy the alleged establishment of de jure racial segregation in public and other federally assisted housing in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and the alleged perpetuation of and failure to disestablish that segregation.

 On October 15, 1992, a plaintiff class was certified consisting of "all black current residents in, or applicants for, public housing assisted by the ACHA and/or HUD, who have been and continue to be denied decent, affordable, and racially integrated public housing opportunities." See Opinion and Order, October 15, 1992.

 The parties sought and obtained the court's preliminary approval of the consent decree on August 31, 1994. Notice of the consent decree, as approved by the court, was given to all class members, including those individuals with African American or bi-racial family members, by mailing notice by first-class mail to the last known available address of all current residents in ACHA public and Section 8 housing and all current applicants for ACHA public and Section 8 housing and by publishing such notice once each week for two weeks in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the New Pittsburgh Courier. Individual notice was mailed to 9,455 persons, approximately 5,000 of whom were members of the class.

 The class notice was designed to acquaint class members with the scope and nature of the consent decree in a concise and easily understood format. Rather than risk confusion by describing in detail the complicated and lengthy provisions, the notice emphasized major provisions and explained the character of the consent decree and its intended purpose. This summary was complimented by italicized warnings informing the reader that the notice was only a summary and that review of the consent decree was necessary to learn all of its terms. The notice also explained succinctly how interested persons could comment or object to the proposed consent decree, in writing, and if desired, at a fairness hearing to be conducted by the court.

 Written submissions in response to class notice of the consent decree were filed by five persons, three of whom were class members interested in the resolution of the litigation. Of a possible 5,000 class member responses, only one class member, Davida Brooks, stated that she had an objection to the consent decree. *fn1" The fairness hearing was held as provided for in the published notice on December 12, 1994. Counsel expressed their views in support of the consent decree. *fn2" All of those who wished to be heard were given the opportunity.

 II. The Consent Decree

 The objectives of the decree are to decrease the level of racial spacial separation in federally assisted housing programs and the private housing market in Allegheny County, and to increase desegregative housing choices and opportunities for class members and other low income persons.

 Section II of the decree, which defines significant terms within the decree, describes the creation of a "Task Force." The Task Force will consist of representatives or designees of the parties, a Fair Housing Services Center created under the terms of the decree, and community based organizations selected by the plaintiffs and HUD. The Task Force will be the entity to select sites for the development of new units and to implement certain critical community development provisions of the decree.

 Section III of the decree governs the siting of all replacement units in Allegheny County. This section provides for the construction of 100 units of public housing to replace those units demolished at Talbot Towers. These units and all other units will be developed as scattered site units, in clusters of between one and twelve units, and will be developed in defined areas of the county to provide class members with housing opportunities outside of racially identifiable and low income impacted communities.

 Section IV of the decree provides for physical improvements to public housing developments and the surrounding neighborhoods to reduce disparities and to facilitate desegregative housing choices. To determine what improvements should be made, HUD will prepare and administer a tenant survey, and HUD will list those amenities enjoyed by tenants at identifiably white developments. The decree requires the ACHA to establish priorities and provide these amenities according to those priorities. In addition, the decree requires the ACHA to eliminate any deficiencies in the enforcement of HUD's housing quality standards, and eliminate any disparities found by HUD and maintenance services among its developments.

 Section V of the decree requires the parties and the Task Force to use funds provided under the decree to leverage other federal, state, and private resources to eliminate vestiges of discrimination and segregation throughout the County. The decree is designed to redirect resources so that more home ownership assistance and development of affordable housing and employment opportunities can take place in impoverished African American communities, while traditional public housing assistance can be used in white communities of higher income populations that have barred the use of such assistance within their borders in the past.

 This section of the decree also calls for the demolition and replacement of dilapidated or obsolete units as scattered site units outside of racially identifiable and low income impacted communities. In addition, adequate transportation and police protection are to be provided at all of the ACHA's public housing developments.

 The decree provides that the Task Force will be the entity to implement the extensive community development provisions of the decree. The Task Force will identify mechanisms for the targeting of resources, including all federal, state, local, and private resources, identify and develop a plan of housing and community and economic development activities and opportunities provided for in the decree, and approve all projects and expenditures related to community and economic development in the decree.

 Section VI of the decree calls for the eventual merger of the public housing and Section 8 waiting lists. Individuals on the two lists will first be cross-listed, so that individuals may be offered, but not penalized for rejecting, a unit for which they did not apply. After one year, the lists will be merged so that an applicant will be offered a range of all available desegregative housing opportunities, which may include conventional public housing, Section 8 tenant based assistance, and other assisted housing units. Each applicant will receive counseling by ...


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