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Advocacy Groups Settle Civil Rights Complaint Against State of New Jersey Involving Superstorm Sandy

Relman, Dane & Colfax is pleased to announce the resolution of an administrative complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which alleged that the State of New Jersey violated civil rights laws in the administration of its Superstorm Sandy recovery program.  The Firm represented Latino Action Network, Fair Share Housing Center (FHSC) and NJ NAACP, and co-counseled the matter with FSHC.

The settlement was reached on May 30, 2014 and requires the State to target $240 million in additional funds to the communities hardest hit by the storm, with an emphasis on serving low-income renters, who are much more likely than homeowners to be people of color.  The agreement also mandates immediate steps to address language barriers that had prevented many Sandy victims from participating in the recovery programs.

The Firm’s Sandy advocacy and other litigation and administrative complaints over the last several years aim at eliminating barriers to fair housing choice for households of color.  Frequently, these barriers have been erected by the zoning, land use or funding policies of state and local governments.   While these recipients have been obligated to comply with program-related civil rights requirements since 1964, lax enforcement by the federal government led to widespread noncompliance for decades. 

Since 2006, the Firm has pursued a number of high-profile cases involving the federal civil rights requirements that are predicates for state and local governments to receive federal funds:

  • Beginning with its False Claims Act work in United States ex. rel. Anti-Discrimination Center v. Westchester County, the firm’s litigation and administrative advocacy has helped to revive the federal effort to enforce Title VI, the obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing” (AFFH), the Rehabilitation Act and other civil rights requirements that are preconditions to receiving federal funds. 
  • In 2010, the Firm negotiated a HUD Conciliation Agreement with the State of Texas that continues to govern the distribution of $1.8 billion in disaster recovery funds awarded after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. 
  • In 2012, the Firm secured a $750,000 settlement with Sussex County, Delaware, following the County’s denial of land use approval for a homeownership development for agricultural and service workers.  
  • In November 2013, HUD issued a Letter of Findings against the City of Dallas for violations of Title VI and the Fair Housing Act because the City’s administration of its housing programs perpetuated racial segregation. 
  • In May 2014, the firm filed a complaint against Nassau County, New York on behalf of ERASE Racism, alleging that the County has perpetuated racial segregation by failing to enforce civil rights obligations on towns and village that are members of the Nassau Urban County Consortium.

The Sandy settlement agreement will govern the State’s administration of nearly $2.8 billion in HUD disaster recovery funding.  It requires the State to add supplemental funding of $215 million to its principal program to build replacement units for households displaced by the storm.  It also establishes an additional $15 million for immediate help for renters who are still displaced from Sandy, which can be used for up to two years while replacement homes are being built, and $10 million for mobile home owners.  Further, it provides an opportunity for automatic review for all applicants who were rejected from Homeowner Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program.  Critically, the Agreement requires the State to provide equal access to non-English speakers for all programs funded with HUD's disaster recovery funds and to build a bilingual website for all programs.  The Agreement goes into effect immediately.

The Firm’s Sandy advocacy was led by Michael Allen.  Kevin D. Walsh and Adam M. Gordon of Fair Share Housing Center (in Cherry Hill, NJ) were co-counsel.   

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