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The Department of Justice announced today that it has settled its lawsuit against the city of New Berlin, Wis., for race discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Filed in June 2011, the lawsuit alleged that the city of New Berlin blocked a 180-unit affordable housing project that a developer, MSP Real Estate Inc., had proposed for the city center area of New Berlin. The city’s planning commission initially approved the project, but reversed course and denied it weeks later, after hundreds of residents objected to it. The suit alleged that opposition was based partly on racial stereotypes and fear that the project’s tenants would be African-American. The lawsuit also charged that the city, in response to public opposition, changed its zoning and land use requirements to bar affordable housing in the city center in the future.
Shortly after the United States filed a motion for preliminary injunction requesting that the court order the city to allow MSP’s affordable housing project , the city agreed to issue the necessary permits to allow MSP’s affordable housing development to be built. The settlement, filed today as a proposed consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, requires that the city not take any further action to obstruct or delay the affordable housing project. It also requires that the city take affirmative steps to provide for future affordable housing, communicate its commitment to fair housing and establish a mechanism to ensure open and fair housing in New Berlin.
As part of the settlement, the city agreed to modify changes it made to its zoning and land use requirements following public opposition to allow for future additional affordable housing in the city center. The settlement requires the city to provide a minimum of $75,000 to establish a Housing Trust Fund, which will finance projects that promote affordable housing, residential integration and equal housing opportunity. In addition, city officials must develop a Fair Housing Outreach Plan to encourage tenants and developers of affordable housing to come to New Berlin, appoint a fair housing compliance officer, and undergo fair housing training. It also provides for a $5,000 civil penalty to be paid to the United States.
“It is important that people have a choice about where they live and are not excluded from communities because of their race. This settlement makes clear that we will take action against municipalities that violate the law by blocking affordable housing developments not for legitimate reasons but to exclude people based on race,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division. “Through this innovative settlement, the city of New Berlin will create greater housing opportunities for the people in the Milwaukee area.”
“The lodging today of the proposed consent decree is tremendously important not only for all of the residents of the Greater Milwaukee Area, including those in the City of New Berlin, but also represents the department’s commitment to ensure that the fair housing laws of our nation are enforced fairly and observed uniformly,” James L. Santelle, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. “All Americans benefit from the many positive consequences of providing affordable housing in our communities, including diversity within our populations and enrichment of the lives and livelihoods of our citizens.”
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.