One of the Department of Justice’s most important responsibilities is to protect those who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms, our nation’s veterans. Recognizing this responsibility, on December 20, 2016, the United States filed a lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville, Florida, claiming that the City violated two federal statutes, the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), when it allegedly discriminated against homeless veterans on the basis of disability by blocking the development of residences for them in the City’s Springfield Historic District.
According to the complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the City succumbed to community pressure to prevent the housing development, pressure that allegedly included one piece of correspondence that stated, “We don’t need more homeless shelters, mentally ill and/or chronically unemployed people pan-handling on our sidewalks, roaming our neighborhood going through my garbage cans.”
The dispute arose when, on March 14, 2014, Ability Housing, Inc. (“Ability”), a non-profit organization focused on providing housing to disabled and homeless individuals, was awarded a grant by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC) to revitalize a twelve-unit, multi-family apartment building in Jacksonville for the purposes of creating permanent housing for homeless veterans with a disability. The complaint alleges that on at least two occasions in early 2014, City officials expressed agreement with Ability’s assertion that the planned housing would be consistent with existing zoning requirements. The complaint further alleges that the City subsequently reversed its stance on the zoning issue due to pressure from the community, denying Ability’s repeated requests for permission to proceed with development.
Without permission to proceed with the project, Ability Housing lost its FHFC funding, and filed its own lawsuit against the City in November of 2015. According to lawsuit filed by the United States, the City of Jacksonville also instructed another non-profit organization to withhold funds from Ability in retaliation for its lawsuit against the City.
In its complaint, the United States seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages for Ability and the intended development residents, and a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The United States also seeks to require the City of Jacksonville to take affirmative steps to ensure compliance with the FHA and the ADA, and to restore Ability and the intended development residents to the positions they would have been in had the City of Jacksonville not engaged in the alleged discriminatory conduct. A copy of the complaint filed against the City of Jacksonville by the United States may be accessed here: https://www.justice.gov/crt/case-document/complaint-united-states-v-city-jacksonville-md-fla