Justice Department and HUD Settle Discrimination Claims Against the City of Joliet, Ill.
Comprehensive Agreement Will Preserve Affordable Housing for City Residents for Next 20 Years
The Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the City of Joliet, Ill., have settled housing discrimination litigation that will preserve affordable housing for low-income residents in the southwest Chicago suburb for at least the next 20 years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois and the Civil Rights Division announced today.
The agreement, which was approved today by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, resolves the claims of the United States in two lawsuits in which the government contended that the city had discriminated against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act when it attempted to condemn a federally subsidized affordable housing development. The development, known as Evergreen Terrace, contains 356 units of affordable housing that are currently operated by a private owner pursuant to a 20-year contract with HUD. The agreement ensures that, if the city acquires the property through condemnation or otherwise, any displaced resident will be able to remain in affordable housing in Joliet, and at least 115 low-income housing units will continue to be available for families at the property or, subject to HUD approval, elsewhere in Joliet.
“The United States is committed to ensuring that individuals and families, regardless of their race or income, have an opportunity to live in the community of their choosing,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “This settlement ensures that, if the city prevails in its eminent domain action, Evergreen Terrace residents will not be forced to leave the city and low-income housing opportunities will be preserved in the city.
“This settlement guarantees that the United States will attain its major goal in this litigation, namely to preserve the affordable housing rights of low-income residents in Joliet and those at Evergreen Terrace in particular,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Zachary T. Fardon. “Local governments that try to reduce affordable housing opportunities without providing meaningful alternatives risk running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. As a result of this settlement, the low-income residents of Evergreen Terrace will be able to either stay at Evergreen Terrace or move to suitable alternative housing in Joliet.”
“This settlement protects the housing rights of minority families living in Joliet and preserves affordable housing options for many years to come,” said HUD General Counsel Helen Kanovsky. “Government at every level should make certain they cultivate affordable housing and avoid creating obstacles that close doors on families who deserve a place to call home.”
Under today’s settlement, if the city acquires the property, consisting of eight buildings on North Broadway Street and North Bluff Street, it will still be bound by certain restrictions designed to protect residents and preserve affordable housing within the city of Joliet. Among other things, the agreement:
· Ensures that tenants who wish to remain in Joliet will not be displaced unless and until Joliet finds suitable housing in the city that will also accept the residents’ federal housing subsidies. The city will also provide relocation counseling to displaced residents through a HUD-approved organization and will provide all assistance required by the Uniform Relocation Act;
· Requires the city to preserve at least 115 of the low-income housing units for the next 20 years. The housing units would remain at the property initially, but the city could seek to transfer the subsidy to another development in Joliet pursuant to HUD’s program requirements for such transfers. No such transfer could be carried out until the replacement housing is ready for occupancy, and current and former Evergreen Terrace residents would have first priority for residency;
· Provides that to the extent any other housing is developed at the property, it would include the minimum number of affordable units required by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program;
· Requires the city to construct and maintain a community center to provide services to current and former Evergreen Terrace residents and other low- and moderate-income residents of the city;
· Maintains most of the Evergreen Terrace site for use as a public purpose for at least twenty years;
· Restores to the city HUD funding under HUD’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Trust Funds program that HUD had previously withheld because of its conclusion that the city was not complying with the Fair Housing Act and other applicable civil rights laws; and
· Ends HUD’s participation in the ongoing trial in the condemnation lawsuit.
The current property owners of Evergreen Terrace and four current tenants had also challenged the city’s condemnation action, and today’s agreement does not resolve their claims.
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 can be found 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.