Author Archives: homeva

Happy Fair Housing Month!

April has been designated Fair Housing Month as a way of honoring and celebrating the Fair Housing Act and the many people who dedicated their passion to bringing it into law. Most notably, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a champion of Fair Housing. At the urging of President Lyndon Johnson, the Act was passed in MLK’s honor days after his assassination in 1968. The Fair Housing Act is no less significant today than it was when it was passed in ’68.

This is a law that required not only high level paradigm shifts but also rests heavily on individuals to not only make choices to comply with the law, but to make strong choices when confronted with injustice. Fair Housing claims cannot be brought without the participation of wronged individuals but most importantly without volunteers who assist in collecting evidence. Fair Housing has always relied on grassroots initiatives holding institutions accountable.

The Chicago Freedom Movement was an alliance of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. to protest the segregation of the city as enforced by Chicago realtors who were steering African American clients into certain parts of the city. In Richmond, too, grassroots organizations of community activists were what really started the ball rolling towards neighborhood integration. One such organization was the Carillon Civic Association which formed to protest and counter discriminatory practices by real estate agents in their neighborhood. By 1971, they were successful in ending discriminatory advertising for houses in their neighborhood. Members of the Carillon Civic Association were also influential in HOME’s early years.

Their legacy continues today as HOME relies heavily on the support of individuals in the community who bring our attention to instances of discrimination or volunteer their time to help us uncover and document discrimination. Now that the Fair Housing Act exists, it is up to all of us to ensure that its promise holds true for all of us. This requires us to be diligent in our observations of housing transactions, advertisements, and market trends. We cannot do this work without grassroots support and energy to be our “eyes and ears.”

The Fair Housing Act has an intimate affect on our lives. It has a direct effect on where we are able to live and who is able to live near us. Not only is each one of us protected but each one of us has the responsibility to ensure that our neighborhoods are open and welcoming to all.

We can all be fair housing heroes.

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Morgan Barker is serving with AmeriCorps VISTA at HOME. She is a Richmond native with a passion for social justice.

Housing Choice Vouchers- Protecting a Path out of Poverty

Nationwide, 2.2 million households use Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV). (These are formally referred to as “Section 8 Vouchers” since it is provided for under Section 8 of the Federal Housing Act.)[i]  These vouchers allow very low income households to choose their housing while their rent is paid in full or in part by grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The problem is that housing providers can choose not to rent to families using the vouchers simply because they do not want to be paid with them. This is called discrimination based on source of income.

Twelve states have passed legislation that protects against discrimination based on source of income. Virginia is not one of these states.

According to a 2011 HUD-funded evaluation, the implementation of laws that protect source of income improved voucher utilization rates and supported families’ ability to move to better neighborhoods. In 2010 the utilization rate for HCV’s was 89% and most families using the vouchers lived in areas where 10-50 percent of residents live below the poverty line. If lawful source of income was protected, we expect that the utilization rates of the vouchers would increase and that more families would move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Families that move to low-poverty neighborhoods using the HCV program experience significant benefits. Adults who move to areas with less than 10 percent poverty rates have lower incidences of obesity and diabetes and improved mental health. Female adolescents in families that move to low-poverty neighborhoods using the vouchers also experience significant improvements in mental health and educational outcomes. [ii]

Adding this protection to the Virginia Fair Housing Act would be a boon for HCV holders and could greatly improve the lives of many adults and children. Families with lawful sources of income are vulnerable and need as much support and protection as possible. Protecting a lawful source of income is a simple way to clear the path out of poverty for many families.


[i] United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Housing Choice Vouchers: Options Exist to Increase Program Efficiencies,” (Washington: U.S. GAO, March 2012).

[ii] Sanbonmatsu, L., et. al., “Moving to Opportunity Final Evaluation- Executive Summary” (October 2011).

HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES MADE EQUAL FILES HOUSING DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT AGAINST RICHMOND RETIREMENT COMMUNITY

Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) has filed a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against The Towers Retirement Community in Richmond, Va. and its Roanoke-based parent company Retirement Unlimited, Inc. The Virginia nonprofit fair housing organization, represented by Washington D.C. law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, claims The Towers’ policies on the use of motorized mobility devices constitute illegal housing discrimination against people with physical disabilities.

The Towers requires residents using motorized mobility devices to pay an additional $1,500 security deposit and obtain liability insurance. Another instance of illegal housing discrimination is the requirement that such residents obtain additional assessments of their disability from the complex’s staff. Finally, Towers residents who use motorized mobility devices are barred from using the property’s transportation services, despite the fact that a mandatory monthly transportation fee is factored into each resident’s total rent cost. Applicants and residents of The Towers who do not use powered mobility devices are not subject to these additional onerous requirements.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s disability, including creating barriers to access or applying different terms and conditions to persons with disabilities.

According to HUD, disability complaints constituted the highest percentage of all fair housing complaints from 2007 to 2012 (44 percent in 2012). The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) reports that 19 percent of the non-institutionalized U.S. population has a disability.  Creating equal access to housing without discrimination for persons with disabilities is an important part of preserving independence.

HOME’s complaint was filed together with the complaint of a 71-year-old woman who utilizes a motorized scooter for all aspects of her daily life after losing her ability to walk from a condition known as severe peripheral neuropathy. The complaint alleges that the complainant’s use of a power scooter is a necessary factor in her freedom and independence, and the fines and restrictions imposed on her as a result of her limited mobility are illegal.

HOME receives more fair housing complaints from people with disabilities than any other protected class,” HOME’s Director of Fair Housing, Helen Hardiman, said. “Our work in this case demonstrates HOME’s commitment  to educating housing providers and consumers on their rights and responsibilities under fair housing laws.”

Any persons who believe that they were treated differently because of their mobility devices or other disability-related needs at The Towers Retirement Community or any other Retirement Unlimited property, or any individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination anywhere in Virginia should contact HOME at 804-354-0641.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on seven “protected classes”: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status (families with children under age 18). Fair housing laws in Virginia offer an additional protection for individuals aged 55 years or older.

A dream for all of us

Martin Luther King Jr. was born this week in 1929. He shared with all of us a dream of a world in which the color of your skin did not bar you from any of life’s opportunities. HOME carries on his legacy by tirelessly enforcing the Fair Housing Act and remaining dedicated to ensuring that everyone, no matter who they are, has full access to the opportunity to live in safe, decent and affordable housing.

We know that discrimination is often based on more than just skin color. We file fair housing complaints based on skin color, race, religion, disability, age, sex, national origin, and familial status. This protects a lot of people, but there are still groups who are not protected. In Virginia, it is legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and source of income. Luckily, three bills filed in this session of the General Assembly propose adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the Virginia Fair Housing Act. Another bill seeks to protect families from discrimination based on their source of income. And finally, there is a bill which will enable all married couples- regardless of their gender or where they were married- to be legal joint property owners. Where you live makes all the difference, we want all Virginians to feel safe and secure in their housing choices.

If you agree with us, contact your legislator and tell them you support the rights of all Virginians to safe, affordable and decent housing. The protection of these rights should not be contingent upon sexual orientation, gender identity, or source of income.

Ready, Set, Advocate!

Today is Housing Advocacy Day. Supporters of HOME’s mission are talking to members of the General Assembly about the bills we support and the changes we hope to see in this session. There have been almost 2,000 bills filed this session between the House and the Senate; these are the ones HOME is keeping an eye on. Click the bill number for the full text of the proposed bill. The bills in bold are the ones we strongly support.

House Bills:

HB 208- Amends the existing vested rights statute by clarifying that structures that meet certain conditions shall be considered nonconforming. Additional changes make clear that a requirement under existing law to bring certain structures into compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code shall not affect the nonconforming status of those structures.

HB 222- Requires the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to notify the local governing body of a locality in which a provider has proposed or applied for an initial license or to modify a license of the proposal or application, and to receive and consider comments submitted by the local governing body when making decisions regarding issuance of a license or modification.

HB 224- Changes the criteria for transferring certain tax-delinquent real property to localities through a special commissioner in the Cities of Norfolk, Richmond, Hopewell, Newport News, Petersburg, and Hampton by reducing the percentage of taxes and liens from exceeding 35 percent to 20 percent and of taxes alone from 15 percent to 10 percent, respectively, and including parcels with an assessed value of $100,000 or less.

HB 259- Proscribes an individual from alleging a real estate licensee has engaged in untrue, deceptive, or misleading advertising unless such licensee has been convicted doing so.

HB 273- Changes the applicability of the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act from the ownership of no more than 10 single-family residences to ownership of no more than two single-family residences and makes the application uniform across the state. The bill also authorizes a landlord to expedite the disposition of security deposits under certain circumstances. The bill repeals the requirement for a landlord to accrue interest on security deposits, effective January 1, 2015.

HB 295- Increases the total amount of tax credits granted for the Livable Home Tax Credit program in any fiscal year from $1 million to $2 million and increases the total amount of tax credits made available through the program allocated for purchase or construction of new residences from $500,000 to $1 million and the total amount allocated for retrofitting or renovation of existing residences from $500,000 to $1 million. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 296- Requires localities to take steps to align transportation infrastructure and facilities with affordable, accessible housing and community services when developing the transportation component of the comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 331- Establishes first-time home buyer savings accounts that are to be used for saving funds for the purchase of homes by first-time home buyers. Moneys in the account are required to be used solely for the down payment and closing costs for the purchase of a home by a first-time home buyer. The bill establishes an individual income tax subtraction for income earned on contributions to the account. However, if moneys are withdrawn from the account for purposes other than to pay eligible costs, any income previously subtracted would be subject to recapture by the Commonwealth and a five percent penalty would be imposed. There would be no recapture and addition to taxable income if the amounts withdrawn were (i) withdrawn because of the death or disability of the account beneficiary, (ii) a disbursement of assets pursuant to a filing for protection under federal bankruptcy laws, or (iii) transferred to another first-time home buyer savings account
The bill limits the amount of principal that can be contributed to any account to $50,000 and limits the total amount that can be retained in an account at any time to $150,000. Persons would be allowed to contribute only cash or marketable securities to a first-time home buyer savings account.

HB 418- Adds discrimination based on sexual orientation as an unlawful discriminatory housing practice. The bill defines “sexual orientation” as a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity or expression. “Sexual orientation” does not include sexually deviant disorders (paraphilias) as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

HB 419- Broadens the class of individuals who may hold property as tenants by the entireties to include any married couple whose marriage is recognized under the laws of any state in the United States.

HB 524- Requires the Board of Housing and Community Development to revise the Uniform Statewide Building Code to require that at least 10 percent of all dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any newly constructed multifamily residential building shall be affordable, accessible units designed and constructed in a manner that satisfies the criteria for Type A units, in accordance with ANSI A117.1. Currently, at least two percent of dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any multifamily residential building must be Type A units. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 527- Provides that for purposes of zoning, a residential facility in which no more than eight individuals with mental illness, intellectual disability, or developmental disabilities reside, with one or more resident or nonresident staff persons, shall be considered residential occupancy by a single family. Currently, such facilities are required to have one or more resident counselors or other staff persons to qualify for this zoning designation.

HB 600- Extends to tenants with one or more minor children who live within 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines the right to continue to occupy their apartment or unit or at least one of equal size and overall quality under a lease agreement, even though their apartment or unit will be converted to a condominium. Under current law, the locality must enact an ordinance to afford these rights, and currently such rights are available to elderly or disabled tenants.

HB 792- Requires localities in Planning District 8 (Northern Virginia) to include provisions in their zoning ordinances that limit the number of residential units with 500 square feet or less of living space to no more than 100 residential units per 100,000 population in the locality. Zoning changes required to accommodate such units must be at a location in which the zoning prior to January 1, 2014, was at least 12 residential dwellings per acre.

HB 816- Adds lawful source of income to the list on the basis of which it is unlawful to discriminate in fair housing practices. The bill defines lawful source of income as any income used by a person to pay for the purchase or lease of a dwelling, including (i) public assistance, (ii) any manner of gross income, (iii) federal supplemental security income benefits, (iv) child support, and (v) any federal, state, or local housing assistance, regardless of whether the funds are paid directly to the person or to a landlord or other third party for the benefit of the person. The bill also authorizes the governing body of any county, city, or town to enact an ordinance in accordance with the provisions of the Virginia Fair Housing Law, provided such ordinance includes protections against discrimination that are at least as protective as those provided by the law.

Senate Bills

SB 58- Requires localities to take steps to align transportation infrastructure and facilities with affordable, accessible housing and community services when developing the transportation component of the comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

SB 63- Requires the Board of Housing and Community Development to revise the Uniform Statewide Building Code to require that at least 10 percent of all dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any newly constructed multifamily residential building shall be affordable, accessible units designed and constructed in a manner that satisfies the criteria for Type A units, in accordance with ANSI A117.1. Currently, at least two percent of dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any multifamily residential building must be Type A units. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission

SB 313- Provides that if any locality elects to enforce Part III of the Building Code, it shall also enforce the unsafe structures provisions for tenant complaints and enforce the elevator, escalator, or related conveyance inspections. The bill also provides that where a county provides enforcement of Parts I and II of the Building Code in a town, and elects to inspect and enforce Part III of the Building Code, the county is also required to inspect and enforce Part III of the Building Code in any such town situated in the county that has also adopted Part III, upon entering into a nonmonetary agreement with the town for such enforcement, unless the town elects to inspect and enforce Part III. The bill contains technical amendments.

SB 340- Allows a locality to require any party wishing to establish a certain type of residential facility for the aged, infirm, disabled, or those with mental illness to provide public notice and participate in a public hearing. The bill requires the operator of such a facility to install smoke detectors regardless of when the building was constructed and directs the Board of Housing and Community Development to adopt regulations establishing standards for requiring smoke detectors.

Keep checking in with us as we post updates on the progress of these bills. Remember, the decisions made in the General Assembly affect all of us as Virginians. Write your legislators and urge them to support the bills you care about.

For more information on the General Assembly.

Find your legislator and send them a message!

Lobbyist in a Box service allows you to track up to five bills at a time, for free!

Local government budgets and Smart Growth

For years, research has shown that smart growth development can reduce costs for localities and in some cases can even increase public revenue.  Over the last 10 to 15 years, research about smart growth development strategies has continued to develop.  However, one question in particular still remained: What impact does smart growth development strategies have on municipalities’ bottom lines?  An organization called Smart Growth America sought to answer that very question.

Smart Growth America published a report entitled Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development.[1]  This report examined 17 case studies of municipalities across the country.  Localities in this study included Afton, MN; Champaign, IL; Charlotte, NC; Fresno, CA and Phoenix, AZ just to name a few.  Specifically, the report compared municipal revenues in two types of development scenarios: smart growth and conventional suburban.  Smart growth development is characterized by buildings located closer to each other, neighborhoods that allow ample walking for residents, streets with better connections among destinations, a greater mix of home types and increased transportation options.  On the other hand, buildings farther away from each other, neighborhoods designed primarily for driving, street systems with longer distances between destinations and fewer public transportation options are characteristics of conventional suburban development.  The report by Smart Growth America focused on three financial aspects of these two strategies: the cost of upfront infrastructure, the cost of providing ongoing services, and the tax base created by additional development.

So, what did this comparison study show?  First, smart growth development costs about one-third less for upfront infrastructure than conventional suburban development.  Some type of infrastructure is of course required to support and supply any development.  Often, the most expensive forms of infrastructure in new developments include roadways, water lines and sewer lines.  The less expensive costs for upfront infrastructure in smart growth development scenarios can be attributed to the fact that smart growth development typically requires fewer infrastructures.  This means that upfront capital costs, maintenance costs, and presumably costs for eventual replacements are lowered.  Additionally, smart growth development scenarios often reuse existing infrastructure, which serves to further lower upfront capital costs.

Secondly, the comparison study showed that smart growth development saves municipalities an average of roughly 10 percent on ongoing delivery of services.  Examples of ongoing delivery of services include the cost of services provided by first responders in emergencies such as police, fire and ambulance.  The way a community is configured has a profound impact on delivery of public services.  Because smart growth development utilizes street systems with better connections among destinations, service vehicles may drive fewer miles, thus allowing a reduction in operating costs.  Further, research showed that the savings on services in rural areas were even higher.

Finally, the survey concluded that smart growth development produces 10 times more tax revenue per acre than conventional suburban development.  Tax revenue typically refers to property and sales taxes, as well as licensing fees and other small sources of revenue in some instances.  This finding is particularly significant because for most communities property taxes are an extremely important source of revenue.  In fact, a 2010 U.S. Census survey of local government budgets nationwide showed that 48 percent of revenue from municipalities’ own sources came from property taxes.[2]

The findings of Smart Growth America are significant for multiple reasons.  The primary reason is because it shows that smart growth strategies create significant revenue for local governments and significant savings for residents! These findings are particularly relevant to local governments given our anemic recovery. Areas that experienced or are experiencing a lot of sprawled “McMansions” development are burdened with high land use and development costs.  Localities across the country have seen that low-density developments fail to pay for their own infrastructure. Transportation costs for families have ballooned, in some cases to more than a quarter of their income. There is a significant correlation between lack of transportation and access to higher paying jobs.[3]  By making the decision to utilize smart growth development strategies, local governments may find that that their public balance sheets AND quality of life for residents can be improved for decades to come.

This is a guest post by Jasmine McKinney. Jasmine is currently a second year student at the University of Richmond School of Law.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia Tech in 2012.  She is currently a legislative/public policy intern at HOME of Va through the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service.


[1] Smart Growth America, Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development, available at http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/building-better-budgets.pdf

[2]  U.S. Census Bureau (2012, September), State and Local Government Finances Summary: 2010, available at http://www2.census.gov/govs/estimate/summary_report.pdf.

[3] Shaila Dewan, Is Suburban Sprawl on Its Way Back?, Sept. 14, 2013, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/sunday-review/is-suburban-sprawl-on-its-way-back.html?_r=0.

3 ways to best use HUD’s new housing affordability data

A great blog post about how best use HUD’s new data on housing affordability:

Three Ways to Use Data from the Location Affordability Portal to Inform Policy and Practice:

1. Understand the “complete costs of place” of a proposed affordable housing development. If we really want to deliver housing that is affordable, we need to focus not only on the costs of rent or a mortgage, but also on the costs of heating / cooling the home and getting to and from work and around town—collectively, the “complete costs of place.”  A home that offers low housing costs but requires residents to spend all the savings on higher transportation costs is no bargain.  While cost is not the only relevant factor in siting affordable housing (see below), it is an important one, and developers can increase the odds that a home with low housing costs is truly affordable by using the Location Affordability Portal to estimate a site’s transportation costs and factoring that into an estimate of the complete costs of place.

2. Target transportation investments to places with low housing costs but high transportation costs. There are two main ways of ensuring that the combined costs of housing and transportation are affordable to low- and moderate-income households: reduce the housing costs of places where transportation costs are already low (see item No. 1 above) or reduce the transportation costs of places where housing costs are already low. The Location Affordability Portal can help communities identify places where transportation investments—such as car sharing, improved commuter bus service, and improved pedestrian infrastructure—are needed to help improve affordability for low- and moderate-income households that have relatively affordable housing costs but high transportation costs.

3. Compare communities and regions. Sometimes policymakers, advocates or researchers find it useful to compare housing costs across regions—for example, to identify places with policies we may wish to emulate. If these analyses consider only housing costs but ignore transportation costs, they may well give us distorted results.  For example, in an analysis of the housing and transportation costs of the 25 largest metro areas, we found that Houston had the eighth most affordable housing costs (as a percentage of income).  But when we considered housing and transportation costs together, Houston dropped to 17th, making it one of the less affordable regions.  The Location Affordability Portal provides useful metrics for comparing the combined costs of housing and transportation costs across jurisdictions.

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