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Dallas, USA, Make Nice Over Housing Bias

DALLAS (CN) - Federal officials agreed to end an affordable-housing discrimination investigation against Dallas after acknowledging that some of its original findings were wrong.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development warned the city of its investigation in November 2013, in a letter of noncompliance accused the city of possible civil violations. The city faced millions of dollars in penalties and fines .

HUD's Fort Worth office investigated after developer 1600 Pacific Building LLP complained that the city refused in 2009 to provide funding for a proposed apartment development at a now-vacant skyscraper in the downtown central business district. The project would have included affordable-housing units in a 33-floor office tower.

Dallas responded two months later, arguing that HUD's conclusions were based on "outdated and incomplete information."

According to a voluntary compliance agreement between HUD and the city reached Wednesday, HUD admits "that at least some of its findings are incorrect" after reviewing the city's response.

"In order to expedite just resolution of the matter and to avoid further administrative procedures or litigation over the remaining matters, the parties have agreed to enter into this agreement," the 10-page settlement states. "The parties agree that all issues, findings, concerns, and questions in the letter are fully and finally resolved and superseded by this agreement."

HUD says that 1600 Pacific withdrew its complaint two months ago and it has since closed the case.

In the city's response letter, city attorney Warren Ernst attacked several of HUD's assumptions: that the project would have been built if the city had supported it; that the financial situation of the developer was similar to that of other city-supported developers; and that no affordable housing existed or is planned for the central business district.

"The letter ignored most of the city's substantial accomplishments to develop affordable housing - many of which could not have been achieved without HUD's active support and approval," Ernst wrote in January. "The city is and has been a strong proponent of fair housing and affordable housing and has worked cooperatively with HUD to serve low to moderate income families and to promote fair housing."

City officials made clear that Dallas would pay nothing in penalties or fines under the agreement.

"This agreement allows us as a city to move forward in partnership with HUD to continue to serve the needs of our community," city manager A.C. Gonzalez said in a statement. "We were able to show HUD the inaccuracies in their initial report and feel confident in our ability to work together."

The city agrees to continue to develop its affordable housing plan initiated after HUD's letter, known as InspireDallas. City officials will submit an updated fair housing impediments analysis to HUD by May 1, 2015, and HUD agrees to provide "technical assistance."

Under the settlement, Ernst and Gonzales also agreed to appear before the City Council to ask for an ordinance banning housing income discrimination.

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