Category Archives: Laws & Public Policy
The following letter to the editor was published in the Richmond Times Dispatch on June 29, 2014.
The recent decisions to prevent the private Saint Paul’s College from providing refuge to 500 unaccompanied immigrant children at their vacant campus, as well as the general angst about immigration in our region is very concerning. Immigration and providing refuge those escaping violence and hardship is a hallmark American value for which we should all be proud. Immigration generally is important to our culture, economy, and moral foundation.
It is important that new arrivals have housing choice. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 acknowledges this. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq., prohibits discrimination by housing providers, including municipalities, whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons on account of race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.
Every person in the United States is protected by the Fair Housing Act regardless of their immigration status. This is well established law. In past years, the U.S. Justice Department has taken enforcement action against municipalities that have attempted to reduce or limit the number of Hispanic families that live in their communities.
Statements reported in recent news media made by some Brunswick officials such as, “There is this negative perception of gang violence – these people are coming from Central America” indicate that officials may be attempting to deny these children access to housing on account of their nationality. Municipalities such as Brunswick County have an additional duty to “affirmatively further fair housing” by virtue of their receipt of federal Community Development Block Grant funding. We believe that making housing unavailable based on national origin may violate this obligation.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) is the only statewide fair housing organization in Virginia. HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people. HOME works to tackle systemically divisive housing practices on a larger scale through fair housing enforcement and research, advocacy, and statewide policy work. We encourage municipalities and housing providers to reflect on the Fair Housing Act, and its requirements that prohibit making housing opportunities unavailable based on national origin. We welcome further discussion.
Heather Mullins Crislip
President and CEO
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME)
Recently, the news has been consumed by coverage of Donald Sterling’s racist comments caught on tape and the NBA’s swift and decisive condemnation. This seems to denote a turning point in race relations in the United States. We’re tempted to declare that the Civil Rights Movement has been a success, open racism is no longer acceptable, we’ve won! And it’s true, overt racism is frowned upon today and few proudly proclaim their racist ideals anymore. Even the Ku Klux Klan no longer claims to be an “enemy” to minorities (but they aren’t particularly friendly, either).[i] Yet, in 2003 when Donald Sterling was accused of housing discrimination against current and prospective tenants in his apartment complexes, nobody batted an eye. This accusation has only resurfaced to be used as one more piece of evidence to prove that his recorded remarks were made with racist intent. To me, this proves that open expressions of racism and being perceived by the public as a racist are undesirable in America, but policies and practices with racist effects, as long as they are hard to see, are somehow acceptable. America is not post-racial, our country continues to rest upon invisible and systemic racism, but we make ourselves feel better about it by condemning those who make their racism known.
Possibly the best thing to come out of this Sterling controversy is a great article at CNN from Rinku Sen, the publisher at Colorlines.com and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. In the article, Sen identifies three things that need to be done in order to achieve racial equity: “talk explicitly about race; focus on the impact of policies and practices and the intention behind them; and support power-building in marginalized communities.”[ii] So far, none of these things are happening on a regular or highly effective basis at the national level. They are, however, happening at the local and regional level, and with much success. Sen goes on to detail a few instances in which groups have explicitly looked at the racial impact of policies and practices, which might on the surface seem benign, and made changes which had positive impacts for racial equality.
I’d like to continue what Sen started with a discussion of HOME and the ways we try to combat racism using Sen’s framework. HOME has been engaged in ensuring equal access to housing for all people since 1971. We’ve always had a focus on combating racism, as this is one of the biggest barriers to fair housing. We work both at the individual and the systemic level and the examples I’m about to give have to do with both internal efforts amongst staff as well as our external programs.
- Talk explicitly about race: In February of this year, HOME had an intentional staff-wide discussion of racism and white privilege. We spoke about the ways we as individuals and as an organization experience and confront racism in our daily lives and work. We challenged each other to use white privilege, if we have it, to confront and disrupt racism when we see it. Additionally, we decided that as an organization we need to do a better job of not only confronting racism but being real about the ways it influences us as an organization both internally and externally. As a result of this discussion, we’ve begun to set aside intentional times to engage openly and honestly with one another about racism and inequality once a week during what we call “Brown Bag Lunches.” Racism informs our work, in fact, it drives much of it. We have committed to the ongoing process of talking intentionally and explicitly about racism and inequality so that we can clearly name it and interrupt it when we see it.
- Focus on the impact of policies and practices and the intention behind them: As an organization with a specific emphasis on research and advocacy, HOME regularly engages in identifying and investigating the racial impact of state and local policies as well as policies of private companies. Our interest is in the ways these policies and practices impact access to housing and the credit to obtain housing. We regularly investigate the policies and practices of private and public entities within the housing industry and conduct independent research such as our recent project, “Mapping RVA: Where You Live Makes All the Difference.” These research endeavors are then used to change the practices and policies of the participants and serve as valuable educational tools for others who are interested in making better policies for the future.
- Support power-building in marginalized communities: Finally, we empower low-to-moderate income families in the Richmond Metro Region to take advantage of the opportunity to build wealth by purchasing their first home. 84% of these families are minorities. None of them could have purchased a home when they did without the support of HOME’s program for first-time homebuyers. Owning a home is one of the best ways to provide not only economic but social stability for a family and the larger community. A low rate of homeownership among minority groups in the U.S. is one of the biggest contributing factors to the wealth gap between whites and minorities. By providing low-to-moderate income families with the opportunity to become homeowners, HOME strengthens minority communities and enables these families to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.
America is not post racial. Racism permeates every facet of society because our society has not learned to confront or even effectively talk about racism and the ways it works in our world. This stops us from reaching our highest potential as a nation.
Yes, it is something to be excited about that someone with as much power as Donald Sterling can lose it all with an ill-timed racist remark, but invisible, systemic racism abounds in our society and we are letting it happen. Rinku Sen and I have given you a few examples of ways people are working to eliminate this proverbial monster in the closet, but it can’t be completed without a visible and systemic effort at the individual, local, regional, state and national levels. We have to condemn the covert as well as the overt acts of racism. All the anger and indignation over Donald Sterling will mean nothing if people are still denied full membership in society simply because of who they are.
Morgan Barker is serving with AmeriCorps VISTA at HOME. She is a Richmond native with a passion for social justice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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. 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.
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. 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.
 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
 U.S. Census Bureau (2012, September), State and Local Government Finances Summary: 2010, available at http://www2.census.gov/govs/estimate/summary_report.pdf.
 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.
Housing is a cornerstone for our families and our communities in Virginia. For 30 years, the Virginia Housing Coalition has advocated that every family and every individual in the Commonwealth should have an affordable and decent place to call home. As we emerge from the worst housing recession in our nation’s history, there are many reasons to focus on the housing status of our citizens here in Virginia.
- More than a million Virginia households are housing cost burdened – meaning, they pay more for housing than they can afford.
- Over 100,000 families lost their homes to foreclosure and this epidemic is still affecting our people and our neighborhoods. Many areas of the state still lag behind our stronger markets.
- The homeownership rate in the state and the nation are continuing to decline. We need to make sure that rental housing is available to meet this growing demand, but we also need to rebuild the opportunity for young families to buy a home and begin to build equity. Homeownership has long been the principle way that lower and middle class households increase wealth.
- The cost of rental housing has outpaced the growth of renter incomes over the past decade. In 2013, it would take a wage of $20.72 per hour to afford Virginia’s 2BR Fair Market Rent ($1,078), but the average renter wage in Virginia is only $15.79.
- Finally, while we have begun to make progress in reducing homelessness, this progress is threatened by cuts to federal rental assistance funding.
Good housing policy does more than just provide adequate shelter to Virginians. Housing is an important element of our state’s economy. Housing construction generates jobs and economic spinoff benefits the surrounding community. For example, the construction of 100 single family homes in Fairfax County supports 222 short term jobs and 20 long term jobs, bringing the total economic impact to over $16.5 million. Usually, housing leads us out of a recession. That has not been the case with the Great Recession. Our homebuilding industry has been in a depression for the past five years and that needs to change in order for economic growth to accelerate in our state.
Housing is integrally connected to many of the important issues that you will face as Governor. Housing density, location and development patterns fuel our transportation needs and expenditures. Good, stable housing correlates with improved educational achievement in young children, as well as providing mental and physical health benefits, especially to our older citizens.
As Governor, we urge you to place a priority on the development of a detailed housing policy and plan in the first year of your term. We also ask you to commit to continue funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund – an effort that has already begun to yield benefits to families across the state. The first round of Housing Trust Fund projects will be getting underway by the end of the year and will serve a broad range of housing needs in the state, including veterans, persons with disabilities and individuals experiencing homelessness.
On behalf of our membership across the state, we look forward to working with you to expand and improve housing opportunities for all Virginians in the next four years.
Bob Newman, President