Residents reach settlement with Town of Tarboro in discrimination lawsuit

Administrative Office
224 South Dawson Street * P.O. Box 26087 * Raleigh, NC 27611
919.856.2564 * Fax 919.856.2120

George R. Hausen, Jr., Esq.
Executive Director

Media Release

See quotes

April 29, 2003

CONTACTS: Hazel Mack-Hilliard (Senior Managing Attorney, LANC-Wilson Office, Wilson, NC)
252-291-6851; E-mail:

George R. Hausen, Jr. (Executive Director, LANC, Raleigh, NC)
919-856-2130; E-mail:

Dock Kornegay (Director, Public Relations & Development, Raleigh, NC)
919-856-2132; E-mail:

(Tarboro, NC) – Two years after filing a lawsuit alleging unfair housing practices, Tarboro residents and the Town of Tarboro have reached a settlement with the Town of Tarboro. 

The settlement opens the door for the development of affordable multi-family housing in areas that had been restricted by the Town’s changes to its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) following the Hurricane Floyd floods. 

“We wanted to see our clients have a reasonable chance to return to affordable housing in Tarboro, their home town,” declared Hazel Mack-Hilliard, senior managing attorney for Legal Aid of NC-Wilson Office, who led the team of attorneys who challenged the restrictions. “We believe that the removal of the May 2000 amendments to Tarboro’s zoning ordinance will bring developers back to Tarboro and renew interest in building affordable housing.”

In the settlement, the Town of Tarboro agreed to restore all land that its zoning changes had removed from multi-family apartment construction and to reduce some costly requirements for setbacks, fencing, traffic studies and on-site management. The Town also agreed to pay the named plaintiffs a total of $95,500 for damages, including $21,000 to the NC Fair Housing Center, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to equal housing opportunity.

“We alleged in the lawsuit that our clients had been harmed by the Town’s moratorium and zoning changes,” noted Mack-Hilliard. “In our view, it appeared that both the moratorium and the zoning ordinance were discriminatory and needed either to be modified or to be set aside, which the Town of Tarboro ultimately agreed to do as part of the settlement.”

In September 1999, East Tarboro, primarily a low-income, African-American community, was flooded and devastated by Hurricane Floyd. With no alternative rental housing available, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set up a temporary trailer park, the Keehlin FEMA Temporary Housing Site, in Tarboro to help house those who had lost their residences in the flood.

Two developers approached the Town of Tarboro in late 1999 and early 2000 to seek permission to build affordable multi-family apartments, with funding coming through the NC Housing Finance Agency. However, at an emergency meeting of the Tarboro Town Council in March 2000, the Town adopted a moratorium on all multi-family construction. Then in May 2000, the UDO was amended to remove certain tracts of land from apartment construction and to impose substantial restrictions and costly requirements to the remaining parcels of land where apartments could be built. One developer dropped its plan to build altogether; the other developer, Pendergrant, Inc., saw its plans for Hawthorne Court Apartments delayed for many months.

In April 2001, after having been contacted by the East Tarboro residents, attorneys from Legal Aid of NC (LANC) began to examine the zoning changes and the availability of land after the new UDO.

“We found that Tarboro’s May 2000 ordinances had dramatically reduced the amount of land available in Tarboro upon to build multi-family apartments in Tarboro where decent and affordable multi-family housing was already in short supply,” stated Mack-Hilliard, “Simply put, those people who had lost their housing during the floods were now locked out of Tarboro by the Town’s ordinances. We could not allow apparently discriminatory and unfair ordinances to, in effect, kick minority residents out of town.” 

During the summer of 2001, a litigation team from multiple nonprofit, legal services organizations was assembled to meet with some of the residents who had previously lived in East Tarboro rental housing and to consider possible courses of action. The team included attorneys from LANC, the North Carolina Justice & Community Development Center, the Land Loss Prevention Project, local private counsel and the NC Fair Housing Center (NCFHC).

“The Center contacted many public and private multi-family developers who felt that the zoning ordinance passed by the Town of Tarboro would add tens of thousands of dollars to development costs and would make the future projects unprofitable,” said Stella Adams, NCFHC’s executive director. “While we were pleased to see that Hawthorne Court was being constructed through our efforts, the Center joined with the individual residents to ensure that multi-family housing would be a viable option for Tarboro families in the future.”

Fourteen Tarboro residents became named plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in September 2001. The residents sued the Town of Tarboro. In their complaint, the residents alleged that the Town discriminated against them on the basis of race and familial status in violation of the Fair Housing Act when it adopted the March 2000 moratorium on multi-family housing and amended its UDO in May 2000. 

Following a year of discovery that included dozens of depositions, the residents and the Town agreed to mediation in January 2003. During mediation, the Town agreed to the changes to the UDO and monetary damages for the plaintiffs. The residents in turn modified their damages claims against the Town.

"The NC Fair Housing Center is extremely pleased with this result,” stated Adams, “and our congratulations to the Tarboro residents and to the legal aid community for its commitment to ensure equal justice. We also hope that this will serve as a cautionary tale to other communities that would use their governmental powers to deny housing opportunities to people of color or families with children.”

Mack-Hilliard agreed. “We think that the Tarboro situation resulted in a win-win agreement,” remarked Mack-Hilliard. “Everybody deserves the opportunity to have a decent place to live. And in this case, citizens spoke up to ensure that such fair housing opportunity is available in Tarboro.”

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization that provides free, legal representation in civil matters to eligible clients in North Carolina through 25 offices and four project units across the state.


Quotes – Plaintiffs
Tarboro Housing Media Release Addendum

Venessa Bradley

“I have lived in Tarboro my entire life, my family, my job and my church have always been in Tarboro, everything I value. After the flood houses were put up that I can not afford. I felt like my right to live in Tarboro was being taken away and I had to go live somewhere else. It wasn’t right.

“It was such a struggle and I just thank God it is all over.”

Felicia Brown

“I looked for housing everywhere. I had applications in at different places, I was on waiting lists but there was no housing that was affordable for my income.”

Minnie White

“I remember reading in the paper about a developer who wanted to help out the people of Tarboro and he wanted to build some low income apartments for the flood victims and the people of Tarboro and that Tarboro had refused to let him build the apartments, which I couldn't understand because we really needed them.”

“I wanted to live in Tarboro as close to my parents as possible but Tarboro didn't want affordable housing there. They didn't want low income housing, and I think they did everything in their power to keep that from happening. I see all of these big expensive houses and communities and divisions going up in Tarboro and I'm wondering, what about me. I know I am poor. I know I can't afford it. I know my income and my resources are limited, but I still thought that I have grown up and lived here all my life, I wanted to raise my children and be with my parents and my family, I thought they (the Town of Tarboro) should have thought about me; the little person. I think I was wronged and I know that they know they were wrong and I want them to know that I know I was wronged. And I might not have all the money in world, but I have pride and I love my family. I want to be with my family, around my family and my friends. I want to live in a house that I want to live in. I want my children to be happy. I want them to grow up with the tight family structure that I had. I know how I feel and it upsets me and I'm hurt that the Town of Tarboro thinks so little of me, when I have done everything in my power to try to be a good citizen in Tarboro.”

Curtis Ruffin

“The Town knew that we had to move, you know, and we hadn't found anywhere to go and we were looking for a place to go and they still told us that we were going to have to be out (of Keehlin) at a certain time.”

“It really got on my nerves a lot because I thought we might get some help from somebody. The Town of Tarboro just wasn't trying to help anybody from Keehlin, really.”

“It seemed like just because we were black they were trying to get around building these places so we could have somewhere to go.”

“Because the property (East Tarboro) is a black neighborhood and nothing but a black neighborhood they (the Town of Tarboro) are trying to keep from building it back up.”

Linda Ruffin

“I attended some Housing meetings in Raleigh and some in Tarboro, I never saw the folks from the Town of Tarboro at the Raleigh meetings. The Town of Tarboro said that all we wanted was a handout. And I know that wasn't what I wanted, I have always maintained a job, and I've always tried to keep my bills up. It was just that we were lost. Everything just got lost right after the flood and it was really hard for some people, it was confusing. I didn't know which way to go at one time. So I was trying to start from the first step, attending the meetings, (in Raleigh and Tarboro) to understand, see where I could get from there. The only thing I could get from there was that the Town of Tarboro just didn't want us.”

“They didn't actually say they didn't want black people living in Tarboro, but there were only black people living in Keehlin and those are the people they did not want back in Tarboro.”

“It was humiliating, the remarks made at meetings by Town people would be in the papers and people would read them, they knew who lived in Keehlin, so when I went to work everyone knew the Town was talking about me and other low-income black folks.”

“My main thing, I just want them to take a look at what has happened and what they have done. The money really isn't important to me, but just to let them know that I, Linda, am not going to sit around anymore and let those remarks be said to me or my family.”