WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today settled a lawsuit against the city of Satsuma, Ala., and the city’s Board of Adjustment, alleging housing discrimination against individuals with disabilities. This lawsuit is part of the Justice Department’s continuing effort to enforce civil rights laws that require states and municipalities to end discrimination against, and unnecessary segregation of, persons with disabilities.
Under the consent decree, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama on Sept.16, 2010, the city agreed to pay $59,000 in damages to the operator of a group home for three women with intellectual disabilities and the trustees of the three residents, as well as a $5,500 civil penalty to the government. As part of the settlement, the city also adopted amendments to its zoning laws.
“Americans with disabilities – like all Americans – have a right to live within their communities without facing discrimination,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This comprehensive settlement compensates the individuals who were harmed and will prevent future housing discrimination against the city’s most vulnerable citizens.”
“Enforcing the nation’s housing discrimination laws is a top priority of the United States Attorneys Office for the Southern District of Alabama,” said Kenyen Brown, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. “This settlement is not only significant for the plaintiffs in this case, but this entire region. The terms of the settlement have created a model approach that can help prevent the kind of discrimination witnessed in this case.”
The government’s amended complaint alleged that city officials violated the federal Fair Housing Act when they refused to allow Pamela Williams to operate a single-family home for three adults with intellectual disabilities in a residential neighborhood of the city, despite the fact that the city’s zoning ordinance allows up to five unrelated persons to live together in the residential zone. The group home residents previously resided at the now closed Albert P. Brewer Development Center, a large state-managed institution. In Satsuma, the three women shared living space and common facilities and received professional supportive services in a home regulated by the state of Alabama.
According to the complaint, city officials told Ms. Williams that she could not operate the for-profit group home for residents with disabilities in the residential neighborhood without a business license, but city policy prohibited the issuance of business licenses for such homes in residential zones. The lawsuit also alleged that city officials refused to make a reasonable accommodation in the city’s rules, policies, practices or services that were necessary to afford the residents an opportunity to use and enjoy their home, as required by the Fair Housing Act.
The consent decree requires that the city maintain records relating to future proposals for housing for persons with disabilities, submit periodic reports to the Justice Department for a period of four years, and ensure that certain employees undergo training on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. In accordance with the decree, the city also adopted amendments to its zoning ordinance and business license law that:
Establish a reasonable accommodation policy by which a resident with a disability, or a housing provider on behalf of a resident with a disability, may seek a reasonable accommodation from the city;
Modify the zoning ordinance’s definition of “family” to expressly provide that persons with disabilities, including residents of group homes, will not be excluded from the definition, regardless of whether the group home is for-profit or non-profit;
Require city officials to issue a business license when it is necessary to effectuate reasonable accommodations under the city’s new policy; and
Include a category for “group homes” in the city’s business license law.
The case began when Ms. Williams and the three residents of the group home filed complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD referred the complaints to the Justice Department, which conducted an investigation and filed the lawsuit in May 2008.
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. 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/fairhousing or www.hud.gov/fairhousing.