On November 28, HUD and Sussex County, Delaware entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) as a result of a complaint filed by the Diamond State Community Land Trust. HUD subsequently determined that the county had failed to administer its programs in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing. Communities that receive CDBG and HOME funds must certify that they are affirmatively furthering fair housing, which entails determining impediments to fair housing choice and taking actions to overcome those impediments. Under the VCA, Sussex County has agreed to perform a number of corrective actions.
On the same day, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it settled a lawsuit against Sussex County and the Planning and Zoning Commission of Sussex County for race and national origin discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. HUD referred the complaint to DOJ because it involved the legality of state or local zoning or other land use laws or ordinances.
The Diamond State Community Land Trust complained to HUD in November 2010 that the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission and the county council failed to affirmatively further fair housing when it denied a preliminary plan to develop New Horizons, 50 single-family affordable homes for low and moderate income households. Diamond State asserted that low-density, single-family residential development is consistent with applicable zoning, as well as with the county’s 2008 comprehensive plan, which “encourages more limited home equity projects… i.e. community land trusts.”
The proposed development is named after the New Horizons Cooperative, formed in 2003 by low income, mostly Latino agricultural workers. Qualified members of New Horizons Cooperative would have the first opportunity to purchase the homes, which would be located in a predominately white, non-Latino area of the county.
As a non-profit land trust, Diamond State sells houses to households with incomes below 80% of area median income (AMI), with the land trust leasing the land to the homeowner for 99 years. If a homebuyer later decides to sell, the sale price remains at a level that low or moderate income households could afford while providing the seller a return on investment.
In the VCA, which runs for four years, Sussex County agrees to:
- Annually provide in-person fair housing training to all county officers, elected and appointed officials, and employees who have duties related to planning, zoning, permitting, construction, or occupancy of residential housing.
- Appoint a fair housing compliance officer.
- Review and evaluate the 1998, 2003 and 2011 Analyses of Impediments, and if past impediments continue to exist develop a proposed priority fair housing plan to address them.
- Include in the fair housing plan a strategy to increase housing opportunities throughout the county, taking into account the housing needs of African-American and Latino residents.
- Develop mechanisms for using CDBG and other funding to affirmatively further fair housing.
- Identify successful models of affordable housing strategies and formulate an affordable housing policy.
- Amend its existing Moderately Priced Housing Unit program to create access for people with incomes between 50% and 125% of AMI.
- Target minorities with disproportionate housing needs to ensure that they are benefitting from affordable housing programs.
- Evaluate certain predominantly minority communities for future infrastructure and community development efforts.
The consent decree with DOJ also runs for four years and contains among its many provisions a requirement for the county to reconsider the New Horizons project.
The Diamond State Community Land Trust is a spinoff of the Delaware Housing Coalition, an NLIHC state coalition partner. Ken Smith, Executive Director of the Delaware Housing Coalition remarked, “We think that the new accent on affirmatively furthering fair housing is very welcome, and we know that Delaware will benefit from the engaged attention that HUD and DOJ paid to this matter. At a tremendous cost to the organization, Diamond State CLT undertook this effort in order to challenge accepted ways of doing business and making decisions in the county. DHC is very pleased with the outcome.”
The voluntary compliance agreement is attached.
Click here for the consent decree.
Click here for the DOJ media release.
Click here for information about New Horizons is available from the Delaware Housing Coalition’s website (PDF), and from the Diamond State Community Land Trust website.