Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
A pending case will decide whether suburbs far beyond Texas can use income to bar poor, black residents from more than just their pools.
After a video spread widely over the weekend showing a police officer slamming a teenage girl to the ground and drawing his sidearm on others in McKinney, Texas, people everywhere are asking how this could happen. Why did police respond so forcefully to kids taking over the pool on the last day of school?
A case before the Supreme Court of the United States yields some answers about the factors that led McKinney residents to call the police in the first place. Some time this month, the court will render its verdict in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.—which draws on the racial and housing divisions exposed in McKinney this past weekend. McKinney specifically is connected to the Supreme Court case, and the future for this suburb and many others like it is bound to the court’s decision.
On Friday, police officers responded to a call about black teenagers showing up at a private community swimming pool in McKinney, which is north of Dallas. For the McKinney Independent School District, Friday was graduation day, and according to reports, a call had gone out on social media for kids to show up at the pool in the tony Craig Ranch subdivision on the west side of the city. Some of the kids who showed up for the party didn’t have guest passes.
Teens who attended the party told BuzzFeed that a fight broke out when some adults told some black children to return to their Section 8 housing. The insult is barbed economically, racially, and geographically. According to District Court filings from 2009, east McKinney is (or was very recently) about 50 percent white, while west McKinney is almost 90 percent white. Public housing developments that accept Section 8 vouchers are almost exclusively situated east of U.S. Highway 75. The adults were more or less telling the black kids to go back to their side of town.
The fundamental demographic divide in McKinney came to light in The Inclusive Communities Project., Inc., v. City of McKinney, Texas, which is cousin to the fair-housing case now before the Supreme Court. In 2009, the Inclusive Communities Project—a Dallas nonprofit organization that works to expand lower-income housing access in higher-income communities—sued McKinney over what the group alleged were exclusionary-zoning practices that violated the Fair Housing Act. McKinney’s housing authority had refused to cooperate with the project’s efforts to build Section 8 housing in predominantly white, higher-income, west McKinney. The city and the nonprofit settled the case out of court.
In 2008, the Inclusive Communities Project brought a separate but related suit against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. That case—which was heard by the Supreme Court in January—argued that the state had violated the Fair Housing Act in its handling of low-income housing tax credits program (known as LIHTC). In Dallas, the state had disproportionately allocated these credits within minority areas of the city, the organization argued.
The US. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concurred: Even if the state did not administer the program in an intentionally racially discriminatory manner, the practice seen in Dallas has had a disparate impact on minorities. Now it’s for the Supreme Court to decide whether disparate-impact claims apply to the Fair Housing Act.
The source of the public outcry in McKinney over the weekend is a community pool that isn’t public. As my colleague Brentin Mock noted last year at Grist, the public swimming pool has always been a site of civil rights disputes. And private communal pools like the one in question in McKinney only proliferated once pools were desegregated, as Yoni Appelbaum explains.
But the Supreme Court case that now concerns McKinney is larger than any single exclusionary amenity. The Roberts court may redefine exclusionary zoning altogether. What the Supreme Court does next will decide whether residents of McKinney—and Flower Mound, and Lewisville, and Sunnyvale, and Frisco, and suburbs and cities far beyond Dallas and Texas—can erect informal barriers to keep poor black residents not just out of their pools, but out of white, wealthy areas in an altogether more profound way.
This post has been updated to clarify a citation.