PHA Not Required to Provide Preferential Treatment to Applicant
Facts: After a local PHA placed an applicant for the Section 8 voucher program on a waiting list, the applicant claimed that he was entitled to, and has been denied, preferential treatment due to his mental disabilities, which include bipolar disorder/manic depression, schizoaffective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The applicant didn’t claim that he was denied a voucher by reason of his disability. Rather, he claimed that he was placed on the waiting list for a voucher in the same manner as any other applicant. He sought to have preferential treatment—being moved to the top of the waiting list ahead of any other applicants—due to his various disabilities.
The applicant sued the PHA for alleged violation of his equal protection rights. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment provides that “[n]o state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A claim under the equal protection clause must allege that the individual has been treated differently because of “his membership in a suspect class or his exercise of a fundamental right, or that he has been treated differently from similarly situated others and that this differential treatment was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”
Ruling: A Pennsylvania district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim.
Reasoning: The applicant failed to state an equal protection claim because he didn’t allege his membership in a suspect class. According to the court, the mentally disabled are neither a suspect nor a quasi-suspect class. Also, despite the applicant’s belief that “access to subsidized housing should be considered to be an implied fundamental right,” the court stated that it is well settled that subsidized low-income housing is not a fundamental right. There is no “constitutional guarantee of access to dwellings of a particular quality.”
The applicant also failed to allege that he was treated differently from similarly situated others, or that this differential treatment was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. His argument that his disabilities deserve preferential treatment, advancing him to the front of the line for a Section 8 housing voucher, was not valid. Finally, the court ruled that he failed to state any plausible facts that he was denied a housing voucher or denied a request to be placed at the head of the waiting list because of his disability.
· Emrit v. Lycoming PHA, May 2017