Pathways to Success, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “prepare youth, adults, and their families for successful lives,” held a community meeting last week in Selbyville to discuss revitalization and fair housing rights.
“We still have people living in poor conditions,” said Fay Blake, director of Pathways to Success. “I believe the thoughtful people gathered here can help Sussex County. Let’s come together collectively, come to the table, and figure it out.”
The event was put together to provide an opportunity to educate, inform and empower residents living in under-served communities in Sussex County.
“What legacy do you want to leave?” asked Romona Fullman, director of the Delaware Division of Human Rights. “You have a responsibility to those who came before you who did the best they could in their time. We’re now in your time, and you have to do the best that you can for the next generation… There’s still much work to be done.”
The Fair Housing Act was established in 1968 and prohibits discrimination in the sale, lease or rental of housing and any aspect of a credit application, due to race, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability, gender identity and more.
Melody Taylor-Blancher, the Mid-Atlantic regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) said the office’s prime function is to enforce and educate the public and other entities regarding the Fair Housing Act.
If someone has a complaint, or believes they are being treated unfairly, Taylor-Blancher said her office would investigate free of charge.
“You just need the will to have your rights exercised. Contact my office. We investigate the complaint, render a determination as to whether discrimination has occurred or not, and then we pursue that on your behalf.”
In 2010, Taylor-Blancher said her office received a complaint from the Diamond State Community Land Trust on behalf of Dogwood Mobile Home Park.
“It was a predominantly Latino community. They had raw sewage that was seeping up to the top of their land. All they wanted was for it to be cleaned out or to move. They went to [the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control] to see if they could have that remedied or repaired.
“The owner of the property decided he was going to evict them all. As opposed to giving them clean water and access to sewer, the land owner made the decision to evict all the Latino tenants off the property.”
In response to the tenants being evicted, Diamond State Community Land Trust wanted to create affordable housing through a “land-trust model.”
“The family is able to purchase land. It gains equity, but they rent the land and the lease on the land is leased in perpetuity,” she explained.
According to Taylor-Blancher, Sussex County has had the model since 1952, citing golf communities and mobile home parks.
“They petitioned the County to build 50 stick-built units in the Laurel area, not far from the park. They were going to be houses, in a really wonderful, nice community, where individuals would be able to purchase home for $70,000 to $100,000.”
The County, however, denied the application due to community opposition.
“One of the public comments made was, ‘If they come on my property, I’m going to shoot them.’ There was a stigma that was already created around the property, even before individuals were able to purchase the land.”
Taylor-Blancher said her office determined that the reasons for denial were “arbitrary.”
As a result, Diamond State Community Land Trust received $750,000. However, to date, the property has not been built.
“The organization never regained the momentum.”
Taylor-Blancher asked those in attendance to close their eyes and envision driving into the community of their dreams, versus driving into their current community.
“When we think about the rural communities, the communities I know and I grew up in,” said Taylor-Blancher, who grew up in Sussex County, “we didn’t have paved roads. We didn’t have streetlights or sidewalks. There weren’t grocery stores in our neighborhoods. Those are the things that State and the County have a duty to provide.
“Those are the things that everyone should be entitled to, and it’s an entitlement to opportunity.”
HUD funds the Delaware Division of Human Relations, which in turn funded Pathways to Success.
“We’re absolutely and extraordinarily proud of their partnership and the things that they have done throughout the course of this fiscal year,” she said.
During the meeting, Prentice Perry of the Pinetown community spoke of his vision for the future of his community. Perry grew up in Pinetown; however, he moved away in adulthood, only to return 36 years later.
“There’s not much hope in the community... I have a vision for our community center to be a hub of everything positive in the community,” he said, noting he wants it to house childcare facilities and a senior center. “I’d also like to see adult education... In order to change a community, the first thing you have to do is change the mindset of the people.”
Perry also said that he hopes to transform a vacant property within the community into a park and name it after his grandmother.
“This is my vision. This is my dream. And I’m living this dream out.”
Jane Hovington, president of the lower Sussex County NAACP, challenged all in attendance who were of voting age to make sure they go to the polls this November and make their voices heard.
“If we come together, we can do anything,” she said, emphasizing that voting is one of many ways community members can make their voices heard.
During the meeting, Kenya Neal, a student involved with Pathways to Success, read a poem she had written, titled “It’s Time to Take a Stand,” for which she received a standing ovation.
It’s time to take a stand…
If, so let me ask you a question
When did you first realize you were losing your voice?
At what point did you decide that the issues were no longer worth speaking out against?
Why have you suddenly decided to sacrifice your peace of mind to avoid a fight?
It’s so funny how everybody has a problem with society but nobody wants to speak out
We have our private meetings
Our private discussions
Our private confrontations
So afraid of being offensive that instead of correcting we just let it go
We say I will just pray about it and let God handle the rest
But come now, it’s going to take a little more than that
It has already been said that faith without works is dead
It’s time to take a stand
We are letting our communities crumble into pieces
Why are we condoning alcohol use and drug abuse?
Complaining about our babies having babies
Yet you continue to raise them
We keep praying to the dear Lord to show us the answer
But have you ever considered that maybe you are the problem?
I don’t know why I’m surprised
How are we supposed to help other people when we can’t manage to get ourselves together?
If you really want me to be honest, we have more sinners running the church then we have in the world
And we still wonder why sinners would rather stay lost
The blind can’t lead the blind to the promised land
So until you get right, don’t preach to the sinners about doing the same sin you are committing
And the biggest reason why this world is such a mess is because we are lazy
We want better but we don’t want to do better
Our values have gone missing
Our beliefs buried under the fear of being different
We’ve forced ourselves to conform to this world that we are not meant to fit into
It’s time to find our voice
It’s time… to take a stand.
To file a complaint, contact the Division of Human Relations at (877) 544-8626 or visit www.statehumanrelations.delaware.gov.