City of Pooler, GA settles racial discrimination case for $450,000 in cash and affordable housing credits

The United States Department of Justice and officials from the city of Pooler, Georgia agreed to settle a federal racial discrimination lawsuit for $425,000 in affordable housing credits and $25,000 in cash to an affordable housing developer. The June settlement resolves allegations that the Pooler City Council rejected plans for a 68-unit affordable housing complex, because it feared that there would be an influx of African Americans into the mostly white suburb.

The $425,000 in housing credits will come in the form of reduced or abated fees related to new multifamily housing construction as well as the use of City-owned parcels of land. Jerry Braden, a developer who purchased land within Pooler with the intention of developing a low-income complex, will receive the $25,000 cash portion of the settlement. Braden had intended to use federal low income tax credits to develop the property but was cut off from those funds when the Pooler City Council refused to endorse his application.

The Justice Department conducted a 14-month investigation into the actions of the Pooler City Council and  other City officials. According to the Justice Department, Braden purchased additional land and resubmitted his zoning application several times to try to address issues raised by the City. Each time, however, the City found new reasons to block the development.

DOJ: City was afraid apartments would attract African Americans to mostly white suburb

The Department alleged that the City Council opposed Braden’s development, because it would attract African American residents from nearby Savannah. The Department also obtained evidence that City employees withheld information that Braden provided from the City Council and insisted that Braden had never provided it.

The Justice Department filed its federal lawsuit in November 2001, asserting that Pooler’s reasons for blocking Braden’s project were discriminatory in nature. City officials had said that they opposed the development because of traffic concerns and because Braden failed to submit all of the appropriate information.

During discovery, the Justice Department learned that Braden had, in fact, submitted all the proper documentation but that City employees withheld it until after deadlines had passed. After learning of certain employees’ duplicity, the Justice Department amended its federal complaint to assert interference in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Buddy Carter, the mayor of Pooler, denied discrimination was behind the City’s move to block the development. “We wanted this project all along,” he said. Braden said that he hoped the settlement would send a message to other cities who thought about blocking housing developments for discriminatory reasons. “Maybe this will have some good effect,” Braden told the Associated Press.

He added that he knew that Pooler officials were paying more attention to fair housing laws now.

“While cities have the right to control local zoning and residential development, they must fairly exercise their discretion in a manner that is free of racial bias,” said Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

The settlement calls for Pooler to solicit proposals from builders over the next four years to develop affordable housing and to help those developers win federal funding.

U.S. v. The City of Pooler
Civil Action No. CV-401-263 WTM (S.D. Georgia)
The Honorable William T. Moore, U.S. District Judge
Complaint filed: November 13, 2001
Complaint Settled: June 5, 2003