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People with Disabilities Win Fair Housing Case Against Springfield

We wanted to share this article with you on this landmark victory for people with disabilities written by Zach Roth, Springfield State Journal, Register USA Network. This article highlights the 7 year battle that IAG and Mary B. Valencia fought to win on behalf of people with disabilities. The details can be found below. This was a huge civil rights win and we would love to share the news!!!

Zach Roth ~ Springfield State Journal - Register USA TODAY NETWORK

A federal court has blocked the city of Springfield from enforcing a local housing ordinance that prevented people with disabilities from living within 600 feet of each other, over a year after damages were awarded in the case.

Sara Darrow, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, ruled last week that the city could not take any action against the owners of a home at 2328 South Noble Avenue, Individual Advocacy Group – a state-licensed provider of services to the home – or any similar residence to enforce the ordinance.

The city will also have to pay about $62,000 in damages for violations of the federal Fair Housing Act, which the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2020.

IAG will receive $53,654 in prejudgment interest, as well. According to the federal government, the civil penalty is among the largest ever obtained against a municipality in Illinois for FHA violations.

In their ruling, the court said that the ordinance was “facially discriminatory”, noting that there wasn’t any credible justification for enforcing the rule, which states that no “family care residence” should be built in residential neighborhoods unless it is more than 600 feet away from each other, is licensed by the state and it had permission from the city to operate in such a manner.

The conflict first arose in 2014, when three disabled people moved into the home owned by Christine and Robyn Hovey on Noble Avenue, which was near another, similar, home run by Sparc, a Springfield-based non-profit that also provides services to those with a wide range of mental and physical disabilities.

In August 2016, the Hoveys were told by the city that a complaint had been filed against the home, accusing them of violating the spacing ordinance. They soon filed for a conditional permitted use (CPU) under the ordinance, which was rejected by the Springfield City Council in a 8-2 vote on Dec. 20, 2016.

Two days later, Mary B. Valencia, sister and guardian of Alan Dennis, one of the home’s residents, filed a lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court, along with IAG. The initial complaint stated that the city prevented the residents from having “an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling in a residential neighborhood.”

The federal government joined the case in 2017 through the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, adding a third plaintiff.

In March 2020, the court ruled for the plaintiffs, saying that the city was in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and granted a motion for summary judgment in the case. COVID-19 pushed the jury trial for damages into 2022, and in July, the jury ruled that $293,000 in damages would have to be paid to the residents, their families and IAG.

The federal government continued to pursue the injunction and the civil penalty, which were both granted by Darrow Tuesday.

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said that the court made clear to the city that there were consequences to violating the Fair Housing Act and that restrictive zoning laws like Springfield’s weren’t acceptable in the marketplace.

“Discriminatory zoning laws that ban people with disabilities from living in the community violate the Fair Housing Act,” Clarke said. “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.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Grant, who represented the government in the case, said that they would continue to work with the Justice Department to ensure fair access to housing within the Central District.

“This case illustrates what can happen when government action erodes a basic civil right: a group of individuals almost lost their home,” Grant said. “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.”

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