Last week, Cruz, an accountant, and a small group of neighbors got together to discuss an out-of-court settlement reached just before the U.S. Supreme Court was set to hear their housing-bias case. It was their first meeting after the Nov. 15 agreement was made final.
Under the settlement, Cruz will be able to stay in the neighborhood where she and her husband, Santos, have lived for 22 years. The couple and 26 other families in the Mount Holly Gardens contended that the town’s decision to replace their rowhouses with market-rate townhouses that they could not afford was discriminatory. The 320-unit neighborhood – now pruned to 60 scattered and solitary rowhouses and boarded-up eyesores – had been the largest minority section in the working-class Burlington County town.
The agreement calls for 20 remaining homeowners to get new townhouses or “replacement homes” expected to be financed through a mix of township, state, county, and federal funds, and private donations.
The Inquirer does not note who these private donors are. WSJ said the list included:
Mount Holly, the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the National Fair Housing Alliance and Self Help Community Development contributed money to a developer who will build new homes for the plaintiffs and other private buyers.
The Inquirer adds:
Township officials had touted the redevelopment as a way to remove blight and crime, but the economic downturn and the legal battle had slowed the project. The settlement was reached as the case headed for a Dec. 4 hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was widely anticipated because the conservative high court had agreed to rule on a long-debated civil rights issue: whether minorities can sue for housing bias without having strict proof of intent.
In this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled that the township did not intentionally discriminate against the residents, but it said that the residents had a right to a trial to show the redevelopment would adversely affect minorities. The town appealed that decision.
Saponaro said the settlement would make Gardens residents whole and also protect the township of 10,000 from assuming too much debt. The settlement includes no admission of liability. The negotiated compromise ends litigation that had cost the township more than $1 million.
Saponaro said the township invited TRF to oversee the building of the 20 replacement houses and 24 below-market-rate units for qualified first-time home buyers because of its expertise in redevelopment projects. TRF will appeal to investors and apply for public funds to finance the project. So far, it has raised money to pay $1.8 million to acquire the land for the 44 townhouses.
This settlement caused the Court to dismiss an appeal that would have tested the constitutionality of the disparate impact analysis as applied to the Fair Housing Act.