Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp.,
429 U.S. 252 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977)

Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan

Housing Development Corp.

No. 75-616

Argued October 13, 1976

Decided January 11, 1977

429 U.S. 252


Respondent Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. (MHDC), a nonprofit developer, contracted to purchase a tract within the boundaries of petitioner Village in order to build racially integrated low- and moderate-income housing. The contract was contingent upon securing rezoning as well as federal housing assistance. MHDC applied to the Village for the necessary rezoning from a single-family to a multiple-family (R-5) classification. At a series of Village Plan Commission public meetings, both supporters and opponents touched upon the fact that the project would probably be racially integrated. Opponents also stressed zoning factors that pointed toward denial of MHDC's application: the location had always been zoned single-family, and the Village's apartment policy called for limited use of R-5 zoning, primarily as a buffer between single-family development and commercial or manufacturing districts, none of which adjoined the project's proposed location. After the Village denied rezoning, MHDC and individual minority respondents filed this suit for injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging that the denial was racially discriminatory and violated, inter alia, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act. The District Court held that the Village's rezoning denial was motivated not by racial discrimination but by a desire to protect property values and maintain the Village's zoning plan. Though approving those conclusions, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the "ultimate effect" of the rezoning denial was racially discriminatory and observing that the denial would disproportionately affect blacks, particularly in view of the fact that the general suburban area, though economically expanding, continued to be marked by residential segregation.


1. MHDC and at least one individual respondent have standing to bring this action. Pp. 429 U. S. 260-264.

(a) MHDC has met the constitutional standing requirements by showing injury fairly traceable to petitioners' acts. The challenged action of the Village stands as an absolute barrier to constructing the housing for which MHDC had contracted, a barrier which could be

Page 429 U. S. 253

removed if injunctive relief were granted. MHDC, despite the contingency provisions in its contract, has suffered economic injury based upon the expenditures it made in support of its rezoning petition, as well as noneconomic injury from the defeat of its objective, embodied in its specific project, of making suitable low-cost housing available where such housing is scarce. Pp. 429 U. S. 261-263.

(b) Whether MHDC has standing to assert the constitutional rights of its prospective minority tenants need not be decided, for at least one of the individual respondents, a Negro working in the Village and desirous of securing low-cost housing there but who now lives 20 miles away, has standing. Focusing on the specific MHDC project, he has adequately alleged an "actionable causal relationship" between the Village's zoning practices and his asserted injury. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U. S. 490, 422 U. S. 507. Pp. 429 U. S. 263-264.

2. Proof of a racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and respondents failed to carry their burden of proving that such an intent or purpose was a motivating factor in the Village's rezoning decision. Pp. 429 U. S. 264-271.

(a) Official action will not be held unconstitutional solely because it results in a racially disproportionate impact. "[Such] impact is not irrelevant, but it is not the sole touchstone of an invidious racial discrimination." Washington v. Davis, 426 U. S. 229, 426 U. S. 242. A racially discriminatory intent, as evidenced by such factors as disproportionate impact, the historical background of the challenged decision, the specific antecedent events, departures from normal procedures, and contemporary statements of the decisionmakers, must be shown. Pp. 429 U. S. 264-268.

(b) The evidence does not warrant overturning the concurrent findings of both courts below that there was no proof warranting the conclusion that the Village's rezoning decision was racially motivated. Pp. 429 U. S. 268-271.

3. The statutory question whether the rezoning decision violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was not decided by the Court of Appeals, and should be considered on remand. P. 429 U. S. 271.

517 F.2d 409, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 429 U. S. 271. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 429 U. S. 272. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 429 U. S. 254

Primary Holding

Unless the denial of a rezoning request was driven by discriminatory intent, it is not unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.


The Village of Arlington Heights denied a rezoning permit to the Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., which was seeking to build low-income housing. MHDC argued that the denial was based on racially discriminatory motives that were unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. While this claim was rejected at the trial court, the appellate court ruled that the effect of rejecting an application to rezone an area from single-family to multiple-family use was racially discriminatory.



  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

A disproportionate impact is not sufficient to find that a government action violates the Equal Protection Clause. Judicial deference to the legislature may be overcome only if there is proof that the legislature was motivated by a discriminatory intent or purpose. While a disparate impact is relevant to making this determination, many other factors must be considered in most cases. Other evidentiary sources include the legal and administrative history, the government's failure to use normal procedures, the specific sequence of events leading up to the decision, past patterns of intentional discrimination in the area, and substantive departures from the process. While there admittedly is a disparate impact on racial minorities from this decision, it appears that proper procedures were followed, and the single-family classification had been in effect for the area since zoning regulations were first implemented.

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.


  • Byron Raymond White (Author)


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

Case Commentary

Although the developer's position may seem sympathetic at first glance, it does not appear that there was any influence of discrimination in this particular case. The area and its surroundings remain the site of single-family homes, and there was no evidence that African-American families were disproportionately hindered by the zoning rules.

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