WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice today filed a lawsuit against the city of Joliet, Ill., alleging that the city violated the Fair Housing Act and the Housing and Community Development Act by taking a series of actions, culminating in the taking through eminent domain a federally-subsidized affordable housing development, that would displace more than 750 residents with low incomes, more than 95 percent of whom are African-American.
The complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that the city of Joliet violated the Fair Housing Act when it took actions to condemn the Evergreen Terrace apartment complex, which provides 356 units of affordable housing in Joliet. Due to the lack of affordable housing in and around Joliet, and because the city has failed to produce a meaningful plan to counteract the effect of eliminating 356 units of affordable housing, many of the residents would be left with nowhere in the city to live if the condemnation action is successful.
The complaint alleges that the effect of the city’s actions and proposed actions is “to limit or reduce the number of Black or African-American residents residing within the city of Joliet. Such actions, if carried out, would have a disproportionate adverse impact on African-Americans and operate to perpetuate segregation in Joliet.”
“Particularly in today’s economy, the city of Joliet’s proposed actions would have a devastating and unacceptable impact on Evergreen Terrace residents, who are disproportionately African-American,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “Today’s action is a reminder that when local governments take unjustified actions that reduce opportunities for affordable housing, they risk violating federal anti-discrimination laws.”
“The city of Joliet continues to try to condemn Evergreen Terrace while neglecting to propose any realistic plan for relocating its residents within the city, making it necessary for the federal government to take steps to protect the housing rights of these residents,” said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
The rents at Evergreen Terrace are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Section 8 program. Approximately 731 of 764 residents, or 95.6 percent, are African-American, while approximately 16 percent of Joliet’s 147,433 residents identified themselves as Black or African-American in the 2010 census.
Beginning in 2001, the owners of Evergreen Terrace applied to HUD to restructure the mortgages under the Multifamily Assisted Housing Reform and Affordability Act (MAHRA), in return for a commitment to continue providing affordable housing at Evergreen Terrace over the life of the mortgage. MAHRA, a statute enacted in 1997, established a process by which the secretary of HUD was to evaluate whether to approve restructuring of loans for Section 8 complexes like Evergreen Terrace. Consistent with MAHRA, HUD’s contractors, the Illinois Housing Development Authority and a private consulting firm, conducted an independent assessment of Evergreen Terrace and considered the input of interested third parties, including the city of Joliet.
Although the city contended that the property was blighted, HUD’s contractors determined that the city’s objections lacked merit and that there was a critical need for affordable housing in Joliet that would not be met if the restructuring for Evergreen Terrace was not approved. Based on these conclusions, HUD approved the restructuring in 2005. In response, the city filed an action to take Evergreen Terrace by eminent domain.
Due to the mortgage restructuring, HUD is a defendant in the condemnation action, which is currently pending in the Northern District of Illinois. The United States will seek to consolidate today’s lawsuit with the pending condemnation action. A tenant of Evergreen Terrace filed a fair housing complaint with HUD in 2009, alleging that Joliet’s actions violated the Fair Housing Act. HUD referred the complaint to the Department of Justice, in accordance with a provision in the Fair Housing Act that authorizes the department’s enforcement when HUD refers a complaint alleging discriminatory zoning or land use practices by a local government.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the city’s actions violate Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act (HCDA), which prohibits unlawful discrimination in any program or activity funded in whole or in part by HUD through HCDA programs. The United States alleges that the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development, which in 2010 received more than $1 million from such programs, has been and will continue to be involved in Joliet’s actions to condemn and Evergreen Terrace.
The lawsuit seeks a court order that would, among other things, enjoin the city from proceeding with the condemnation action without ensuring that there will be sufficient and adequate affordable housing for those persons who would be displaced from Evergreen Terrace and require it to take steps to prevent the recurrence of any similar discriminatory conduct. The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages for persons harmed by the city’s actions and a civil penalty.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. Fair housing enforcement is a priority of the Civil Rights Division. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org , or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations in the complaint must still be proven in federal court.