Sussex County staff get trained in fair housing rules

The Sussex County Council, at an informational workshop on fair housing on Tuesday afternoon, discussed what is known as NIMBY— “Not in my back yard.”

NIMBY is illegal, explained Jarrod Elwell, director of civic engagement and fair housing for Enterprise Advisors, based in Washington, D.C., who presented the workshop with colleagues.

It can be avoided by knowing the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings and rentals based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability.

Disparate treatment, Elwell said, is treating someone differently because he or she is a member of a protected class. That could include a landlord who refuses to rent to an African American family, a landlord who refuses to rent to a family with children because he wants an adult-only building or a Realtor who will only show a Latino family homes in Latino neighborhoods, saying he believes the clients would feel more comfortable there.

“People that come out and just talk ill of affordable housing have to know that councils, states — their hands are tied, because they have the law backing them. They have to obey the law. It’s not about you allowing this [illegal development or practice] to come through, it’s about county law. It’s about state law, and you have to allow it,” Elwell said.

“If you have an affordable-housing issue, put it out there. Say you have an affordable-housing issue. … If you are not approving projects, make sure you are documenting legitimate reasons, to protect yourselves. If we have more mixed-income communities, where you have blue-collar families living next to higher-educated families, the likelihood of that blue-collar child going to college increases” and can eventually help stop the cycle of poverty, he explained.

The history that led to the Fair Housing Act was reviewed at the workshop, held as routine training for County Council members. It was not the result of a complaint against the County, Councilman John Rieley told the Coastal Point.

Terms explained included “redlining,” which involves residential security maps drawn to deny loans and insurance to people of color, and “blockbusting.”

Calling it “an egregious practice in the middle part of the 20th century,” Elwell said blockbusting occurred when a real estate company paid an African American woman to push a baby carriage through a neighborhood, then had a Realtor tell residents there to sell their homes because African Americans were moving into their neighborhood. That led to profit for real estate companies.

It’s also illegal to discriminate against the physically or mentally disabled, he said. Reasonable accommodations must be made, such as allowing a service animal even though there is a no-pet policy.

It isn’t unreasonable for a renter to ask a disabled tenant who needs a ramp to remove it and put back the steps after he moves out, but it is unreasonable to expect a departing tenant to tear apart a bathroom wall and replace a sink that was lowered to accommodate someone in a wheelchair, Elwell explained.

Also attending the workshop, held at the Sussex County Association of Realtors office in Georgetown, were employees from the county’s Planning & Zoning Department, Finance Department, Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment, as well as county attorneys, the community development director and clerk of the council.


By Susan Canfora

Staff Reporter