WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that Polk County, Fla., has agreed to pay $400,000 in monetary damages and civil penalties to settle a lawsuit alleging that it violated the Fair Housing Act when it denied New Life Outreach Ministries the right to operate a faith-based transitional residency program in Lakeland, Fla., for homeless men with disabilities, including those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. 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 must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the county agreed to pay $280,000 to New Life, up to $80,000 to individuals who were forced to relocate from New Life’s property on Pipkin Road as a result of the county’s conduct and $40,000 to the government. The consent decree also prohibits the county from further discrimination and requires county employees who have responsibilities related to zoning and land-use to receive fair-housing training.
"Equal access to housing is a basic necessity and a civil right, and the Fair Housing Act guarantees that all individuals can access that right free from discrimination," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "This settlement will ensure that the equal housing opportunities required by law are available to all citizens of Polk County and send a message to other states and municipalities that we have no tolerance for discrimination against persons with any type of disability."
The complaint in this case, which was filed by the Justice Department on Sept. 30, 2010, alleges that the county twice approved, in writing, New Life’s proposed use and affirmed that the use was legal under the county’s land development code. The complaint also alleges that New Life purchased the property on Pipkin Road in reliance on this written approval and that the county reversed itself only after community opposition arose because of the disabilities of New Life’s residents.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status (having children under 18 years old) and disability.
More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces can be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line 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.