Justice Department Settles Disability-Based Housing Discrimination Lawsuit With City Of Jacksonville
Jacksonville, FL – The Justice Department today announced a settlement with the city of Jacksonville, to resolve allegations that the city violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to allow the development of permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities in its Springfield neighborhood.
The settlement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, resolves a lawsuit the department filed in December 2016. That lawsuit was consolidated with similar ones brought by Ability Housing, Inc. and Disability Rights Florida, which were resolved in a separate settlement with the city.
“Federal law protects the right of individuals with disabilities to live in communities of their choice without facing discrimination,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Through this settlement, the city of Jacksonville has taken steps to ensure that its residents can exercise this right.”
“The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act protect against official adoption of community discrimination,” said Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow, of the Middle District of Florida. “We commend the city of Jacksonville’s willingness to rectify its past actions, and we look forward to continuing to work with the city to ensure that individuals with disabilities in Jacksonville are afforded the same opportunities as those without disabilities.”
As part of the city’s settlement with the department, the city has amended its zoning code to better comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including removing restrictions that apply to housing for persons with disabilities and implementing a reasonable accommodation policy. The city also agreed to rescind the written interpretation that prevented Ability Housing from providing the housing at issue, designate a fair housing compliance officer, provide Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act training for city employees, and pay a civil penalty to the government of $25,000. In the separate settlement, the city agreed to pay $400,000 to Ability Housing and $25,000 to Disability Rights Florida, and to establish a $1.5 million grant to develop permanent supportive housing in the city for people with disabilities.
The department’s suit alleged that in 2014, Ability Housing received a $1.35 million grant from Florida to revitalize a 12-unit apartment building and create permanent supportive housing for “chronically homeless” individuals in Jacksonville who, by definition, have at least one disability. Ability Housing specifically intended to provide this housing to veterans and to connect them with optional support services. The city had previously certified that Ability Housing’s development of the property was consistent with the city’s zoning code but, as alleged in the department’s complaint, reversed itself in response to intense community pressure based on stereotypes about the disabilities of the expected residents. As a result, Ability Housing lost the grant and the property. The department conducted an independent investigation and subsequently filed this lawsuit.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities. 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 Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at email@example.com or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.