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Bill Targets ‘NIMBY’ Discrimination Against Affordable Housing Projects

A housing and retail development in Short Pump
A housing and retail development in Short Pump (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Affordable housing developers sometimes get a cold reception from local officials and residents.  Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) blames misconceptions about who lives there “and a veiled fear about who lives in affordable housing.”

McClellan is sponsoring a bill that would ban localities from discriminating against affordable housing projects when it comes to zoning and permitting. The bill also makes it clear that localities can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status or handicap when it comes to zoning decisions.

“The current anti-discrimination status does not expressly apply to local governments in their land-use decision,” McClellan said in an interview earlier this month. “So we'll expressly make clear that it applies to them.”

The bill would allow the Attorney General to take cases of alleged discrimination to civil courts, which could fine localities up to $50,000 for first violations and $100,000 for later ones.

McClellan sponsored a similar bill last session that easily cleared the Senate on a 36-4 vote but never came up for a vote in the House of Delegates. The bill ran into opposition from some localities, but McClellan said some are now backing the legislation.

Representatives for the Virginia Municipal League said they were still reviewing the bill.

The bill comes as the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division investigates alleged racial discrimination by the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors, which voted down an affordable housing project there. The investigation comes under the federal Fair Housing Act rather than state law.

Residents came out en masse to speak out against the proposed development, citing incompatibility with the rural county, too much density, and increased traffic, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.



Ben Paviour covers state politics for VPM News with a focus on accountability journalism.