Civic Leaders Allege Housing Discrimination by Town
By DORIE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave
January 24, 2013
Three prominent civic leaders have expressed concern to elected state officials over alleged discriminatory housing practices by the Town of Cape Charles.
The civic leaders are Lenora Mitchell, president of Concerned Citizens of Cape Charles; Alice Coles, president of Bayview Citizens for Social Justice; and Jane Cabarrus, president of Northampton County NAACP.
The three leaders want elected officials to know that the sales contract for the Town’s old school stipulates that apartments to be built in the school may not be rented to persons receiving government subsidies.
The apartment developer, Echelon Resources, has applied for federal and state tax credits totaling 45 percent of construction costs.
The Town of Cape Charles awarded Echelon a no-bid contract for the school for the price of $10. The property is assessed at $921,000.
The Town also agreed to transfer $41,000 insurance proceeds to Echelon, and to reduce utility hookup fees by 75 percent.
“We question why, and how, a developer could receive government assistance to build apartments while explicitly excluding people relying on government assistance from living in those apartments,” the civic leaders wrote in a letter.
One letter went to State Senator Ralph Northam, and another to Virginia Delegate Lynwood Lewis, with copies to Senator Tim Kaine and Northampton Supervisor Willie Randall.
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The civic leaders are asking Northam and Lewis to urge the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to deny tax credits for the apartment project because of its discriminatory intent.
“The sales contract states on page 8: To the extent permitted by law, Purchaser shall not operate the Project as a low-income housing facility under any state or federal program. This language is offensive to all of us who have fought for ‘fair housing’ in Virginia and in Northampton County,” the civic leaders wrote.
They further claimed that the Town of Cape Charles’ discriminatory practices “disproportionately affect African-Americans.”
The Town sold its only basketball courts, indoor and outdoor, to Echelon. The indoor court will become a luxury apartment, and the outdoor court will be a private parking lot.
“The town’s basketball court [was] the prime recreational outlet for African-American youth in the town,” the letter states.
The letter notes that Cape Charles’ only African-American official, Councilman Tom Godwin, expressed surprise over the contract. “I am very concerned about the exclusion of Section 8 housing vouchers. I want to make sure that we are not discriminating against anyone,” the letter quotes Godwin as telling Town Council.
Mayor Dora Sullivan signed the contract with Echelon three days before Godwin assumed office.
“We are supplying emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that show that the town council wanted to bar low-income individuals from being allowed to utilize the school after it is ‘rehabilitated’ into an apartment house,” the letter continues.
The letter includes a copy of an email exchange between Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek and Echelon developer Edwin Gaskin. On February 27, 2012, Panek wrote: [Town Manager] Heather [Arcos] indicated that Council does want a few refinements to the purchase contract language, [including] prohibition for using the building for Section 8 housing.”
On March 1, 2012, Panek wrote again to Gaskin with “language prohibiting HUD low income housing as previously discussed.”
Gaskin wrote back to Panek the same day: “Bob — . . . Good work on the HUD language, all OK there.” The email concluded with the wish “. . . that we might always be friends! Thanks!”
The civic leaders’ letter also quotes language from the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation policy statement which recommends that “Federal and State agencies, local governments, [and] housing providers . . . seek ways to reconcile national historic preservation goals with the special economic and social needs associated with affordable housing, given that this is one of the nation’s most pressing challenges.”
Attached to the letter is a certificate of recognition of Fair Housing Month signed by Virginia Governor McDonnell: “Equal housing opportunities are essential for supporting vibrant communities and economic viability . . . illegal barriers to equal opportunity in housing, no matter how subtle, diminish the rights of all,” it states.
The letter to State Senator Northam may be read by clicking here.