GEORGETOWN, SC – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, the NAACP, and the law firm of Venable LLPtoday sued the Georgetown, SC County Council for housing discrimination by preventing the construction of a 90-unit affordable housing community called Porter’s Landing. In 2021, the County refused a rezoning request that would have allowed construction despite having one of the most serious shortages of affordable housing in all of South Carolina. This decision perpetuates longstanding patterns of racial segregation in the County.
The lawsuit – filed by the South Carolina NAACP, the Georgetown County NAACP, and affordable housing developer FourSix Development – includes claims under the federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C § 1981, 42 U.S.C § 1982, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Zoning decisions like the Georgetown County Council’s rejection of Porter’s Landing are quintessential violations of the Fair Housing Act,” said Malcolm Peyton-Cook, Senior Counsel in the Fair Housing and Community Development Project with the Lawyers’ Committee. “ In a 2015 Supreme Court decision, Justice Anthony
Kennedy wrote that cases like this one lie at the ‘heartland’ of Fair Housing Act jurisprudence. By filing this case, Plaintiffs and their co-counsel are working to make the promise of the Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968 in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., real.”
FourSix Development’s intention was to build a 90-unit apartment building that was affordable to families with incomes at 40% or 50% of the area median. When FourSix applied to rezone the Porter’s Landing site to allow multifamily housing, Georgetown
County initially appeared supportive. County staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning, and, in the initial stages of the zoning application process, the County Council voted in favor of the rezoning, allowing the zoning application to advance. This indicated that the rezoning was on track for approval, but in turn it was denied.
“Georgetown County’s recent housing needs assessment recognized the severe shortage of affordable housing in the County and found that this shortage was limiting economic growth. And the County’s own planning documents have long identified affordable housing as a priority,” said Adam Protheroe, Litigation Attorney with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “But when presented with a chance to actually build affordable housing, the County rejected it with no coherent rationale. This action will disproportionately harm Black families and perpetuate longstanding patterns of racial segregation.”
Predominantly white, middle-class residents of the nearby Wedgefield Plantation golf course community mobilized to oppose the rezoning and spread misinformation about the proposed development that was communicated in racially coded language. Despite mobilization by Plaintiff Georgetown County NAACP to counteract these narratives and advocate for Porter’s Landing, the County Council rejected the rezoning in its final vote.
“The Porter’s Landing development proposal was consistent with Georgetown County’s housing and land use policies as well as South Carolina state law for mixed-use planned developments, which makes the County Council’s denial of the zoning application for Porter’s Landing all the more remarkable,” said Matthew J. Allman, counsel at Venable LLP. “The Council’s action was contrary to the unanimous recommendation of the Planning Commission as well as the County’s own adopted planning guidance, indicating that the Council was not motivated by sound land use planning practice but instead by the racially-based NIMBYism that fueled much of the community opposition to the Porter’s Landing development.”
“Local institutions such as our healthcare systems, sheriff’s department, fire department, and the local school district have experienced a decrease in employee retention resulting from lack of housing. Maintaining employment in our local systems is essential to our community and further emphasizes the need for affordable housing,” said Georgetown NAACP Branch President, Marvin Neal. “The local Georgetown NAACP branch moves to force our elected leadership to be intentional and deliberate in providing affordable housing for Georgetown County residents.”
“The Georgetown NAACP branch did incredible work canvassing the community to understand the dire need for affordable housing to address racial injustice and economic inequity in South Carolina,” said NAACP Assistant General Counsel Martina Tiku. “This shows how powerful local activism and national legal strategy can move the law. This advocacy and lawsuit are the next step in ensuring just housing in South Carolina.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org
About the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center – South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center is a forceful and respected advocate for low-income South Carolinians on issues such as health care, immigration, reentry issues, housing, education, hunger, public benefits, domestic violence, and consumer issues. SC Appleseed is dedicated to affecting systemic change wherever we can do the most good — in and through the courthouse, legislature, administrative agencies, community and the media. We grow our impact by helping others do the same through education, training, and co-counseling.
About NAACP – Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation. We have over 2,200 units and branches across the nation, along with well over 2 million activists. Our mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.
About Venable LLP – Venable LLP is an American Lawyer Global 100 law firm headquartered in Washington, DC that serves as primary counsel to a worldwide clientele of large and mid-sized organizations, nonprofits, high-net-worth entrepreneurs, and other individuals. With more than 850 professionals across the country, including in California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Washington, DC, the firm strategically advances its clients’ objectives in the United States and around the globe. Venable advises clients on a broad range of business and regulatory law, legislative af airs, complex litigation, and the full range of intellectual property disciplines. For more information, please visit https://www.venable.com.