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Sussex officials move toward fair housing

County council approves lawsuit settlement agreements
December 18, 2012
This logo will appear on Sussex County's website and stationery. SOURCE HUD

Sussex County government is complying with a settlement agreement as a result of a fair-housing case filed with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But much more must be completed over the next four years.

The settlement allows developers of a denied housing project to resubmit their plans for consideration before the county's planning and zoning commission. While county officials will admit no wrongdoing, the county’s insurance carrier will pay a $750,000 financial settlement in the case.

Sussex County Council signed off on two agreements in the case, triggered by a complaint filed by Diamond State Community Land Trust. The complaint followed the county’s 2010 denial of the New Horizons development planned near Laurel.

Under terms of the agreements, no penalties or fines have been assessed.

At its Dec. 11, Sussex County Council unanimously approved a fair-housing policy and a voluntary compliance agreement. The county has appointed Brandy Nauman as fair housing compliance officer and the fair housing logo will be added to the county's website, agendas and correspondence in all departments that deal with housing issues.

Nauman will retain her full-time duties as county housing coordinator. Among her other duties will be to coordinate the county's compliance with the agreements, to receive discrimination complaints and serve as a resource to defendants as well as county officials and staff.

Other terms of the agreement are as follows:

County staff will be required to receive training on requirements of the Fair Housing Act within 90 days and then once a year for four years. County Administrator Todd Lawson said training will take place in late February for staff and elected and appointed officials with duties related to planning, zoning, construction and permitting. The group will include Lawson; county council; planning and zoning commission; board of adjustment; planning and zoning department; and community development and housing department.

County staff must develop a plan to address any impediments to fair housing; the plan must meet state and HUD approval.

In future planning efforts, the county will coordinate with Delaware Housing Authority and Office of State Planning and Coordination to develop an affordable housing strategy throughout the county. The county’s fair-housing compliance officer will identify successful models of affordable housing strategies from other areas for presentation to the county to assist in the formation of the plan.

The county will conduct an internal evaluation of minority communities to determine investment strategies and develop a plan and approval process for infrastructure improvements.

The county will target minorities with disproportionate housing needs to ensure they are benefiting from all programs supported by the county.

Semi-annual reports must be submitted to HUD detailing steps taken to meet requirements within the agreement for the next four years.