Today’s Manassas Journal-Messenger provides an update on the legal issues facing the City of Manassas, reminding us that the HUD investigation from last year has been turned over to the Department of Justice. It would have been helpful if they mentioned that HUD had been uncooperative in last year’s negotiations and that the city had adopted the majority of HUD’s recommendations only to have HUD throw it’s hands up and turn it over to the DOJ. It would have also been helpful if the MJM had gone into some detail about what this “Equal Rights Center” is that started all this mess. But with the limited space for articles in the MJM, it gives me an opportunity to fill in a few of the blanks for the edification of Manassas readers.
The “Equal Rights Center” is a non-profit mercenary for leftist interests that is funded by a combination of taxpayer grants and litigation settlements from unfortunate victims of the organization’s attention. On one hand they lobby for housing legislation, which is often a challenge to comply with without having an attorney on staff to evaluate every nuance of every policy and every minor decision. Then they appeal to the government for grants so they can bring suit against anyone with deep pockets who violates these rules and effectively perform the government’s role of enforcing the law. As often happens in corporate litigation, when a settlement is obtained, a significant portion of that settlement doesn’t go to the supposed victims harmed, but to the Equal Rights Center so they can start this whole process over again. It’s a pretty slick concept - help create a law, get money to enforce the law, and then collect money from those who may have violated it and have decided to settle.
You might call these folks professional blackmailers.
Business has been pretty decent for the ERC. The Equal Rights Center received $220,000 “private Enforcement Initiative” grant from HUD in 2005, shook down Washington Hospital Center for an undisclosed settlement in 2003, attacked the City of Falls Church and some real estate developers in 2004, getting a $120,000 “contribution” as part of the settlement. They shared a $1.4 million dollar settlement against Archstone-Smith Trust, sued KB toys in 1999, and coerced Horning Brothers and Pfiffer Realty into making a $130,000 “donation”. Now it’s Manassas’ turn to help fund the ERC with a “voluntary contribution”, under the threat of
When Manassas got the attention of folks like the ERC and “Housing Opportunities Made Equal”, it happened because current law outsources the government’s enforcement powers to organizations that have a vested interest in maliciously attacking businesses and local governments. Government law enforcement cannot solicit a bribe from the target of an investigation in order to “make the problem go away”, but non-profit organizations that perform housing enforcement actually rely on this in order to keep afloat financially. And they don’t even have to hide this — see Fair Housing Advocacy Groups: Litigation as a Source of Non-Profit Funding for a rather scholarly discussion of this exact business model.
I’m pretty impressed that Manassas is standing up to this harassment. Unless others do as well, the abuses of this outrageous system will only continue.
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