Justice Department Files Statement of Interest in Religious Land Use Case Involving Oregon Church That Feeds People Who are Homeless or Hungry
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against the developers, builders and designers of the Gateway Village Apartments, a 275-unit apartment complex in Salem, Ore., for violations of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated the law when they designed and constructed the complex with barriers that make it inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
“Since 1991, the Fair Housing Act has required that when new multifamily housing is built it be accessible to persons with disabilities, so that all persons have equal opportunities to live in multifamily housing across the nation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “When builders build apartment complexes with steps and other barriers, they deny that equal housing opportunity for those with disabilities.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., alleges that various barriers at Gateway Village deny persons with disabilities equal access to the 112 ground floor units and their associated public and common use areas. Such barriers include inaccessible building entrances; doors within apartments that are too narrow for wheelchair users; and kitchens and bathrooms that are configured so that persons using wheelchairs cannot use them.
Named in the suit are the developers and builders of the property – Montagne Development Inc., David A. Montagne, William David Jones, Dav II Investment Group LLC and Gateway II LLC – and the firm that designed the property, Multi/Tech Engineering Services Inc. The suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to retrofit Gateway to bring it into compliance with the Fair Housing Act and monetary damages for persons harmed by the lack of accessibility at the complex.
The lawsuit arises out of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO), a private nonprofit corporation whose mission is to ensure compliance with fair housing laws for all persons in Oregon and southwest Washington. FHCO inspected Gateway Village and observed accessibility barriers at the property. After conducting an investigation, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Justice Department.
“T he Fair Housing Council of Oregon has been a steadfast partner in the enforcement of our federal fair housing laws,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Dwight Holton. “Their investigations concerning accessible housing play an important role in the civil rights of the people of Oregon.”
“Accessible features are essential to helping people with physical challenges enjoy their home, “said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD is committed to working with the Justice Department to ensure that developers and builders meet their responsibility to comply with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.”
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. Among other things, the Act requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 12, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground floor units. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination at Gateway Village Apartments should contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon at 503-471-5577, 855-474-5577 (toll free) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals who believe they may have been victims of housing discrimination elsewhere may contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743 or email@example.com or the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The United States bears the burden of proving its case in federal court.