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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
     Plaintiff,

v.

Case No. 97-C-104

CITY OF MILWAUKEE,
     Defendant.

______________________________


COMPLAINT

  1. This action is brought by the United States of America 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.

  3. Defendant City of Milwaukee is a governmental subdivision of the State of Wisconsin, located in Milwaukee County, within the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Milwaukee is governed by a Mayor and a Common Council consisting of seventeen (17) alderpersons, each elected by an aldermanic district.

  4. The Indian Council of the Elderly, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation in Milwaukee that was established to serve the American Indian community of Greater Milwaukee by providing such services as meals for elderly American Indians, preventative medical services, counseling services and recreational activities.

  5. The School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi are two Catholic religious orders located in the Greater Milwaukee area that have experience in managing housing complexes for senior citizens that receive funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  6. In or around 1990, the Indian Council of the Elderly, the School Sisters of St. Francis, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi (collectively, "ICE") sought to construct a senior center that would consist of 49 apartment units of senior citizen housing and a meal site in southwest Milwaukee for the benefit of American Indian and other senior citizens.

  7. In September 1993, ICE made an offer to purchase a 3.8 acre parcel of land at 6031 West Howard Avenue ("the Howard site") in Milwaukee, for the purpose of constructing the ICE senior center. The Howard site is located adjacent to or across from several commercial businesses, multifamily housing complexes, and single family houses. The site was selected, in part, because of its proximity not only to residential neighborhoods, but also to retail businesses and service providers, such as the social security office located across Howard Avenue from the Howard site. In December 1993, the owners of the site accepted the offer.

  8. The proposed 49 units of housing at the ICE senior center, as well as the Howard site, are "dwellings" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b).

  9. The Howard site is located in the Eleventh Aldermanic District of Milwaukee. The population of the Eleventh Aldermanic District is 97.6 percent white, 0.4 percent African American, and 0.4 percent American Indian. The population of the City of Milwaukee is 65.5 percent white, 31.3 percent African American, and 1.0 percent American Indian.

  10. On February 7, 1994, ICE filed an application with the City to rezone the site from its present zoning classification of "F-2," which permits only single family housing, to the classification of "Plan," which permits general planned development, such as the ICE senior center.

  11. The Howard site is adjacent to two single family houses, which abut a multifamily condominium complex. Across the street from the Howard site are two commercial establishments. On the same block as the Howard site, in addition to the single family homes and condominium complex, are a realtor's office and an auto repair garage. Many additional single family homes are also located in the area.

  12. Throughout the time period between December 1993 and May 1994, Annette Scherbert was the alderwoman of the Eleventh Aldermanic District. During this time period, Alderwoman Scherbert actively opposed ICE's rezoning application and engaged in various activities designed to encourage neighborhood opposition to the rezoning proposal.

  13. On at least two occasions, Alderwoman Scherbert made statements to others that revealed that she opposed the ICE's rezoning proposal because she did not want American Indians residing in or visiting the neighborhood near the Howard site.

  14. At public meetings on January 25, 1994 and March 7, 1994, and at subsequent City Plan Commission and Common Council meetings, numerous local residents expressed statements in opposition to the proposal that revealed that they opposed the approval of ICE's zoning request because they did not want American Indians to reside in the neighborhood near the Howard site.

  15. On April 11, 1994, the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve the proposal to rezone the site and to construct the ICE senior center, subject to ICE's acceptance of certain modifications that would satisfy concerns about the site relating to the volume of visitors, traffic, parking, drainage, and disruption to neighbors. ICE subsequently amended its proposal to adopt all of these modifications.

  16. On May 17, 1994, despite the endorsement of the City Plan Commission and ICE's acceptance of the Plan Commission's proposed modifications, the Milwaukee Common Council rejected the zoning change proposal.

  17. Based on Alderwoman Scherbert's public and private assertions made between January 25, 1994 and May 17, 1994, members of the Common Council were aware that Alderwoman Scherbert's opposition to ICE's zoning request was based, in significant part, on her belief that the ICE senior center would be inhabited and visited by American Indians.

  18. Based on the public assertions made between January 25, 1994 and May 17, 1994, members of the Common Council were aware that citizens opposing ICE's zoning request did so, in significant part, because they believed that the ICE senior center would be inhabited and visited by American Indians.

  19. In denying ICE's rezoning request, the Common Council was influenced by the opposition of Alderwoman Scherbert and neighborhood residents to the presence of American Indians at the Howard site. In light of the Plan Commission's approval of the ICE proposal as meeting all applicable technical requirements, the Common Council denied the rezoning request for no legitimate reason but rather to appease the discriminatory animus of Alderwoman Scherbert and neighborhood residents.

  20. The actions of the defendant described above have made dwellings unavailable to persons because of race or national origin, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a).

  21. As described above, the defendant's conduct constitutes a denial to a group of persons of rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq., which denial raises an issue of general public importance.

  22. Persons and entities who have been victims of the defendant's unlawful actions, such as the Indian Council for the Elderly, the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, are aggrieved persons as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i) and are entitled to be compensated by the defendant for the injuries caused by the unlawful conduct.

  23. Defendant's unlawful actions were intentional, willful, and taken in disregard of the rights of others.

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

  1. Declares that defendant City of Milwaukee's denial of the ICE zoning change proposal was made on account of race or national origin, and thus constituted a violation of the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.;

  2. Orders defendant City of Milwaukee, its officials, agents, employees, and all other persons in active concert or participation with it to permit ICE to complete the purchase of the Howard site and begin construction of its senior center on that site;

  3. Enjoins defendant City of Milwaukee, its officials, agents, employees, and all other persons in active concert or participation with it from otherwise discriminating against ICE on account of race or national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.;

  4. Requires such actions by the defendant as may be necessary to restore all persons aggrieved by the defendant's discriminatory actions to the position they would have occupied but for the defendant's discriminatory actions;

  5. Requires the defendant to take such affirmative steps as may be necessary to prevent the recurrence of any discriminatory conduct in the future and to eliminate, to the extent practicable, the effects of defendant's unlawful housing practices;

  6. Awards such damages as would fully compensate each person aggrieved by the defendant's discriminatory actions for the injury caused by the defendant's discriminatory actions, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(B);

  7. Awards each person aggrieved by the defendant's discriminatory actions punitive damages because of the intentional and willful nature of the defendant's conduct pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(B); and

  8. Assesses civil penalties against the defendant in amounts of money authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(C), in order to vindicate the public interest.

The United States further prays for such additional relief as the interests of justice may require.


JANET RENO
ATTORNEY GENERAL

THOMA P. SCHEIDER
United States Attorney

ISABELLE KATZ PINZLER
Acting Assistant Attorney General

JAMES L. SANTELLE
Assistant United States Attorney
United States Attorney's Office
517 E. Wisconsin Ave., Rm. 530
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 297-1700

PAUL F. HANCOCK
Chief, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section

USABELLE M. THABAULT
BARBARA A. BURR
THEODORE D. CHUANG
Attorneys
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. BOx 65998
Washington D.C. 20035-5988
(202) 514-4305


Document Filed: February 3, 1997.

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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