SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – This week, a federal court in Illinois entered a permanent injunction against the City of Springfield, Illinois, prohibiting it from enforcing a local spacing ordinance that bans people with disabilities from living in homes within 600 feet of one another if the home has five or fewer residents. The court’s order follows a July 2022 trial at which a jury awarded $293,000 in damages to the home’s residents, their families, and Individual Advocacy Group (IAG), the state-licensed agency that provides services to the home’s residents.
“Discriminatory zoning laws that ban people with disabilities from living in the community violate the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Restrictive zoning laws and policies that prevent people with disabilities from integrating into society at large have no place in our marketplace today. The Court’s decision makes clear that there are real consequences to cities and other municipalities when they unlawfully and immorally exclude people with disabilities from residential neighborhoods.”
“I commend the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and my office for obtaining this groundbreaking civil rights decision,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris for the Central District of Illinois.
“This case illustrates what can happen when government action erodes a basic civil right: a group of individuals almost lost their home,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua I. Grant for the Central District of Illinois. “As many Springfield residents have expressed to our office, our community should be open to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work with the Department of Justice to ensure that the Fair Housing Act’s guarantee of equal housing and access to justice is available to all citizens in the Central District of Illinois.
In 2014, three residents with intellectual and physical disabilities moved into a single-family home in Springfield where they received community residential services from IAG. Such arrangements, known as Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs), permit residents with disabilities to live in an integrated community setting rather than an institution. Even though the home was operating in compliance with state requirements, the city attempted to shut it down in 2016 by relying on a local spacing ordinance that prohibited two homes for individuals with disabilities from operating within 600 feet of one another.
The Justice Department filed suit against the City of Springfield in 2017. In 2020, the court ruled that the city had violated the FHA by enforcing the spacing ordinance against the home. In July 2022, a jury determined that the city should pay a total of $293,000: $162,000 in compensatory damages to the residents of the home and their guardians and $131,000 in compensatory damages to IAG.
The court also awarded the United States $61,982.50 in civil penalties against the city for violating the Fair Housing Act. In awarding civil penalties against the city, the court recognized that the city’s attempts to close the home and its restrictive zoning ordinance impeded the integration of people with disabilities from institutions into the community, a right guaranteed by the Supreme Court’s 1999 decision in Olmstead v. L.C. As the court explained, the civil penalty award against the City of Springfield will “make clear to municipalities that these facially discriminatory spacing rules may not be used to hinder the trend of shifting persons with disabilities from institutions to community-based residences.” The court further permanently enjoined the city from taking any action against the owners or residents of the home, ordered the city to undergo fair housing training and awarded $53,654,50 in prejudgment interest on the jury’s damages award to IAG. This is one of the largest civil penalties the Department of Justice has obtained against a municipality in Illinois for violations of the FHA.
The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing because of disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination may submit a report online at www.civilrights.justice.gov