Letter to the Editor Concerning the Prevention of Saint Paul’s College from Providing Refuge

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”[1] 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)

What’s up with the Virginia Housing Trust Fund?

This article was originally featured in a weekly newsletter of the Virginia Housing Coalition. 

What is it?  During the last session of the Virginia General Assembly (2012), the Virginia Housing Trust Fund was created, and an initial allocation of $7 million was made to the fund.  The HTF will become operational during the 2nd year of the biennium – beginning July 1, 2013. The funding for the HTF came from a one-time payment that Virginia received as a part of the National Mortgage Settlement Agreement. No long-term funding source has yet been identified for the HTF.

How can the funds be used?  The HTF will be administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Housing Development Authority.  The budget bill provided a basic description of how the funds are to be used.  The funds are divided into two classes – grants and flexible loans.  Up to 20 percent of the funds may be used for grants – with a special focus on reducing homelessness, including foreclosure and mortgage counseling. The rest of the funds are designated for loans that will need to be repaid to the fund.  These loans will be low interest and can be designed to be as flexible as possible – for example, deferred payment or interest only would be possible under the program.

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Many Richmond Area Residents are Isolated in Areas with Very Little Opportunity for Them to Succeed

Where you live directly influences your ability to access the opportunity cycle

By 2040 the population of the United States will be predominantly people of color. The evidence put forth in Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia’s new report Where You Live Makes All the Difference: An Opportunity Map of the Richmond Region suggests that if our economic development and housing policies continue to isolate and exploit this population, the future vitality of the region is in trouble.

The Richmond region has long suffered from the repercussions of its past.  Beginning in the 1930s, federal housing policy promoted segregation through incentivizing the growth of white, middle class suburban areas while starving the inner city of credit.  The result has been intergenerational, concentrated poverty in some of the oldest neighborhoods of the region, while increasingly remote neighborhoods, available only to those with the necessary means, continue to blossom and flourish.  Only by understanding the mechanisms that have woven the fabric of opportunity throughout the Richmond region will we be able to move forward.

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