WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that the city of Columbus, Ind., has agreed to pay $24,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the city had discriminated against a group home for persons recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. The city will also adopt new anti-discrimination policies and procedures.
"Experience has shown that people recovering from addictions to alcohol and drugs can benefit when given the opportunity to live in supportive residences. The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from using zoning codes to deny them this opportunity," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department will continue to vigorously protect the civil rights of all persons with disabilities across the country."
"Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act in this manner protects the civil rights of persons with disabilities," said Timothy M. Morrison, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. "These actions encourage local governmental units to end discriminatory policies."
"Recovery programs help the individual and the community. This settlement enables all parties to move forward based on fact, not stereotype," stated HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing John Trasviña.
Under the terms of the proposed consent decree, which must still be approved by Judge Larry J. McKinney of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis, the city of Columbus will:
- Pay $18,000 to Addictions Counseling Treatment Service Inc. (ACTS), an Indiana corporation that in 2007 sought approval to operate a group home known as Bethesda House for up to 11 persons recovering from drug and alcohol addiction at 423/425 Lafayette Ave. in Columbus;
- Pay $6,000 to the United States as a civil penalty;
- Grant Bethesda House permission to operate the home with 11 residents in the event that it submits a new application within the three year term of the consent decree;
- Adopt and implement a reasonable accommodation policy to address accommodation requests from the city’s zoning rules and practices; and
- Obtain training in the Fair Housing Act for the staff of the city’s Planning Department and Board of Zoning Appeals.
If approved, the settlement will resolve a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department on Sept. 30, 2009, that alleged that the city violated the Fair Housing Act when, on July 25, 2007, it denied a request from ACTS for a land use variance to operate Bethesda House as a group home for up to 11 persons recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. ACTS filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which referred the matter to the Justice Department.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.
More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at the website www.justice.gov/crt/. Persons who believe they have experienced or witnessed unlawful housing discrimination may call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777. More information about the Fair Housing Act can also be found at www.justice.gov/crt/housing/ or www.hud.gov/fairhousing.