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U.S. Supreme Court

Wright v. Roanoke Redevelopment Auth., 479 U.S. 418 (1987)

Wright v. City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

No. 85-5915

Argued October 6, 1986

Decided January 14, 1987

479 U.S. 418


The Brooke Amendment to the Housing Act of 1937 imposed a ceiling on rents charged to low-income persons living in public housing projects, and, as later amended, provides that a low-income family "shall pay as rent" a specified percentage of its income. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has consistently considered "rent" to include a reasonable amount for the use of utilities. Petitioners, tenants living in low-income housing projects owned by respondent, brought suit in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that respondent overbilled them for their utilities and thereby violated the rent ceiling imposed by the Brooke Amendment and implementing regulations. The District Court granted summary judgment for respondent, holding that a private cause of action was unavailable to enforce the Brooke Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, while the Brooke Amendment confers rights on tenants, these rights are enforceable only by HUD.


1. Nothing in the Housing Act or the Brooke Amendment evidences that Congress intended to preclude petitioners' § 1983 claim against respondent. Not only are the Brooke Amendment and its legislative history devoid of any express indication that exclusive enforcement authority was vested in HUD, but also both congressional and agency actions have indicated that enforcement authority is not centralized, and that private actions were anticipated. Neither are the remedial mechanisms provided by the statute sufficiently comprehensive and effective to raise a clear inference that Congress intended to foreclose a § 1983 cause of action for the enforcement of tenants' rights secured by federal law. Pp. 479 U. S. 423-429.

2. There is no merit to respondent's argument that the provision for a "reasonable" allowance for utilities is too vague and amorphous to confer on tenants an enforceable "right" within the meaning of § 1983, and that the matter of utility allowances must be left to the public housing authorities, subject to HUD's supervision. The benefits Congress intended to confer on tenants are sufficiently specific and definite to qualify chanrobles.com-red

Page 479 U. S. 419

as enforceable rights under § 1983, and are not beyond the judiciary's competence to enforce. Pp. 479 U. S. 429-430.

771 F.2d 833, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and POWELL and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 432.


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