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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
EASTERN DIVISION

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
     Plaintiff,

v.

No. 99C 4461

CITY OF CHICAGO HEIGHTS,
     Defendant.

__________________________________

COMPLAINT

  1. This action is brought by the United States to enforce the provisions of  the  Fair Housing  Act,  as amended,  42 U.S.C.  §§ 3601 et seq.

  2. This court has  jurisdiction  over  this  action  under  28 U.S.C. § 1345 and 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a).

  3. Defendant City of Chicago Heights is located in Cook County, Illinois, and is organized under the laws of the State of Illinois.

  4. The City of Chicago Heights exercises zoning and land use authority over land within its boundaries. The City of Chicago Heights' Zoning Ordinance contains the City's zoning and land use regulations.

  5. Section 7-1.2 of the Chicago Heights Zoning Code permits, in single-family residential districts, group homes in which not more than eight persons who are disabled may live together with paid professional staff, provided the group home obtains a Certificate of Occupancy. A new zoning ordinance was passed by the City Council on December 21, 1998, but the above-cited ordinance was in effect at the time of the events giving rise to this action.

  6. There are two requirements for a Certificate of Occupancy, one of which is that the group home "is located at least one thousand (1000) feet from another group home, except when a special use permit is issued to allow a [group home] to locate closer than one thousand (1000) feet to an existing [group home]."

  7. The Thresholds, Inc. ("Thresholds") is a corporation organized under the laws of Illinois. It is in the business of providing psycho-social services to individuals with mental illness, including establishing group homes and other residential settings in which persons with mental illness can live, aided by professional staff.

  8. In May, 1995, Thresholds informed the City of Chicago Heights by letter that it was considering two parcels of land in the City on which to build a group home, one of  which  was  located  at  619 West 15th Street.

  9. Less than one week later, the Chicago Heights City Planner wrote back to Thresholds that 619 West 15th Street ("the property") was appropriately zoned for a group home.

  10. On August 1, 1996, Thresholds acquired legal title to that property, and began the process of planning to build a group home there.

  11. Thresholds also entered into an agreement with a contractor for the construction of three identical group homes for persons with mental illness, one of which was the group home at 619 West 15th Street in Chicago Heights.

  12. On November 24, 1997, Thresholds received a letter from the Chicago Heights City Planner, which stated that Thresholds could not construct a group home on the property it had purchased because there was another group home within 1000 feet. The letter referenced the spacing provision in the Chicago Heights Zoning Code.

  13. Thresholds applied for a special use permit from the City seeking the reasonable accommodation of waiver of the spacing requirement.

  14. When the Plan Commission considered the Thresholds application on July 29, 1998, many persons from the community, most of whom identified themselves as neighbors of the proposed group home, appeared at the meeting to speak against the application. Their opposition was based on the disability (mental illness) of the proposed residents of the Thresholds group home. They stated that persons with mental illness could be dangerous; the group home would make their property values go down; and the neighborhood was too dangerous for persons with mental illness. At the end of the meeting the Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council deny Thresholds a special use permit.

  15. On August 14, the Zoning Board of appeals met to consider the application, but for lack of a quorum, the meeting was canceled. Community opponents were at the meeting as well and told the Board they would return with more people when the Board met again.

  16. On August 19, 1998, the Zoning Board of Appeals reconvened. Community residents appeared again and were each given three minutes to speak. All opposed the group home. Residents said that mental patients can be violent, that the gunman who shot two guards at the United States Capitol was mentally ill, that mental patients go off their medication, and that a high percentage of released mental patients are violent. A vote on whether to recommend the special use permit be granted was not taken at that meeting, because the Corporation Counsel told the Board that to deny the permit might violate the Fair Housing Act.

  17. At the next City Council meeting, community opponents appeared and voiced their objections, even though the Thresholds matter was not on the agenda. This time the residents directed their anger at the alderman of the ward in which the group home would be located.

  18. The Zoning Board of Appeals did not reconvene to decide on its recommendation until December 2, 1998. At that meeting, the Board was presented with a petition signed by residents opposing the special use permit. The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council deny the application.

  19. On December 21, 1998, the City Council met to vote on the application. Community opponents were there again, and again they expressed anger at the alderman for letting things get so far. They again stated their opposition to the group home for discriminatory reasons. Three members of the City Council voted to deny Thresholds' application for a special use permit, the three other members abstained, and the Mayor added his vote to those of the aldermen who voted to deny the permit. The permit was denied.

  20. Also at the December 21, 1998, City Council meeting, a new zoning ordinance was passed, the group home provision of which restricts far more than the prior ordinance, the circumstances in which group homes can locate in Chicago Heights.

  21. The proposed residents of the proposed group home are handicapped within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h).

  22. The proposed group home is a dwelling within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b).

  23. By denying Thresholds a special use permit because of community opposition based on discrimination, the City denied the prospective group home residents a dwelling on the basis of the handicap (mental illness) of the prospective group home residents in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1).

  24. By denying Thresholds a special use permit because of the disability of the residents who would live there, the City of Chicago Heights refused to make a reasonable accommodation in the application of its Zoning Ordinance in violation of 42 U.S.C. §3604(f)(3)(B). Waiver of the 1000 foot spacing requirement was necessary to allow persons with handicaps an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and would not impose an undue burden on the City.

  25. By denying Thresholds a special use permit, the City of Chicago Heights has denied to a group of persons rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, a denial which raises an issue of general public importance, and has engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of the rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, as provided in 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a).

  26. Thresholds and the prospective group home residents are the victims of the City's discriminatory practices and are aggrieved persons, as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i). These persons have suffered, or may have suffered, damages as a result of the City of Chicago Heights' conduct.

  27. The City of Chicago Heights' conduct described herein was willful and taken in reckless disregard of the rights of others.

WHEREFORE, the United States prays that the court enter an ORDER that:

  1. Declares that the actions of the City of Chicago Heights described herein constitute a violation of the Fair Housing Act;

  2. Enjoins the City of Chicago Heights, its agents, employees, assigns, successors and all other persons in active concert or participation with them, from violating any provision of the Fair Housing Act;

  3. Enjoins the City of Chicago Heights, its agents, employees, assigns, successors and all other persons in active concert or participation with them, to make a reasonable accommodation in their policies, practices, rules or services that would permit the construction of a group home at 619 West 15th Street for eight persons with mental illness;

  4. Requires such action by the City of Chicago Heights as may be necessary to restore all persons aggrieved by the City of Chicago Height's discriminatory housing practices to the position they would have occupied but for such discriminatory conduct;

  5. Awards damages as would fully compensate each person aggrieved by the City of Chicago Heights' discriminatory housing practices for their injuries caused by such discriminatory conduct, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(B); and

  6. Assesses a civil penalty against the City of Chicago Heights in order to vindicate the public interest, in an amount of money authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(C).

Respectfully submitted,

JANET RENO
Attorney General

BILL LANN LEE
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division

SCOTT R. LASSAR
United States Attorney

JOAN LASER
Assistant United States Attorney
219 South Dearborn Street
Chicago, Illinois 60604
(312) 353-1857

General Information Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
 
Leadership
Steven H. Rosenbaum
Chief
Contact
Housing & Civil
Enforcement Section
(202) 514-4713
TTY - 202-305-1882
FAX - (202) 514-1116
To Report an Incident of Housing Discrimination:
1-800-896-7743
Mailing Contact
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, NWB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Email: fairhousing@usdoj.gov

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