A housing development in Maryland is mired in contradicting legal grievances from city officials and residents after it marketed and sold homes only to Muslims.
A developer for River Run, a housing development along the Gunpowder river in Joppatowne, Md., filed a lawsuit against Hartford county officials in September, alleging that its refusal to continue issuing building permits for the project was discriminatory against Muslims. However, defendants allege that the developers conspired to create an exclusively Islamic community by selling only to Muslims, according to the Washington Post.
Developer Faheem Younus partnered with Bill Luther in 2016, after Younus’s previous development partner bowed out. Younus and Luther then marketed the housing development and sold 22 lots only to Ahmadiyya Muslims, with the aim of creating a retirement community specifically for that sect of Islam.
A website belonging to Majlis Ansarullah USA, a Maryland-based Muslim group, previously advertised River Run as Ansar Housing Complex and stated that “This will be a community of 49 spacious brand new homes (Villas) for Ahmadi Muslims with a dedicated mosque within walking distance.” The website later replaced that language with an update advertising an audio feed from the mosque to the community for daily prayers. That language was also removed.
Real estate agent Gina Pimentel filed a complaint in September with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging that she could not get any information about the housing complex because the developers were “unlawfully privately marketing and selling only to Ahmadi Muslims,” according to WaPo. Pimentel said that her complaint was motivate by business concerns, as she would not be able to sell homes in the area if it were an exclusively Muslim community, nor would money lenders who charge interests be able to operate in the area, as Muslim usury laws forbid interest.
County officials stopped issuing building permits for River Run properties, which halted construction and put the Muslims who purchased the 22 properties in a kind of residential limbo. Luther, chief executive of Gemcraft Homes, filed a lawsuit against Hartford County officials, alleging that the delay of permits was “motivated by racial and religious animus to keep members of the Islamic faith from purchasing lots and exercising their religious freedoms.”
Maryland State Delegate Richard Impallaria, a defendant in Luther’s lawsuit, said that Younus and Luther’s operation was a conspiracy to create a Muslim community and that he did not believe Younus’s claim that his failure to be transparent with information about the housing complex could be chalked up to inexperience.
“They had a conspiracy,” Impallaria told WaPo. “They already carried it out by selling homes to a select religious sect. I’m not buying their story now.”
Impallaria, who led town hall meetings about the housing development Sept. 7 and 26, said the issue concerning River Run was one of housing discrimination on the part of the developers, not county officials.
“The leading problem on this project is the housing discrimination,” Impallaria said. “We really don’t need a group of people coming in that’s going to isolate themselves from the rest of the community — come in and do an end run around state, federal, county laws. It’s not a good way to start out as a good neighbor.”
Luther denied Impallaria’s assertions of a conspiracy and his assessment of housing discrimination, according to The Baltimore Sun.
“Contrary to what Del. Impallaria and others said at that [Sept. 7] meeting…the Old Trails community is restricted to 55-year-old residents and is not limited to a ‘religious sect.’ There are no Fair Housing Act Violations,” Luther said.
Residents of Joppatowne who attended a public meeting with Younus and Mansoor Shams, who served in the U.S. Marines, gave mixed reactions to the housing development, with many expressing concern over a potential Muslim retirement community in their town, according to WaPo. One man angrily proclaimed that the Muslim concept of jihad was “war on the infidel” and that, as a self-identified infidel, he strongly opposed the housing project. Pat McLaughlin, who also attended the meeting, said she believed Younus may be “pushing an agenda.”
“He never answered my question. Why did they sell them in secret?” McLaughlin told WaPo.
In the midst of the allegations flying back and forth between the housing developers, county officials, and residents in the surrounding area, those who bought one of the four homes completed in River Run before Younus partnered with Luther and began plans for a Muslim retirement community are also concerned. Tony Whitt bought one of those houses in 2016, according to WaPo, but is now concerned that he may find himself in an almost exclusively Muslim community.
“I have no opposition to the group,” Whitt told WaPo. “But it’s not promoting diversity. It promotes segregation.”
County officials have allowed construction on the first 14 homes to move forward, but stated that no one could move into any of the houses until the county confirmed that everything satisfied housing codes.
“They can build the houses but they can’t put anybody in them,” said county Director of Administration Billy Boniface at a Sept. 11 community advisory board session, according to The Baltimore Sun.”The county has to apply the law the same as they would to any other development across the board in order to show that they are being fair, and that is what we are doing. I know there are some people who are upset … with the development. I know the developer is very upset that the county is not letting the development move forward.”
“So, I guess we are doing something right, because everybody is mad at us,” Boniface added.
Luther’s lawsuit is ongoing, as is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s handling of Pimentel’s complaint against River Run’s developers.
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