Jacksonville Settles Discrimination Lawsuits Over Proposed Supportive Housing Unit
by Andy Jones
June 6, 2017
The Jacksonville City Council approved an agreement with disability rights organizations on May 23, settling lawsuits concerning the City’s prior decision to rescind a previously approved supportive housing complex.
The City previously awarded a $1.4 million grant in March 2014 to the nonprofit Ability Housing to revitalize a 12-unit building to provide supportive housing for people with disabilities and other chronically homeless people in its Springfield Historical District.
After a month of public backlash, allegedly over panhandling and related safety concerns, the City rescinded the grant, saying the proposal didn't comply with the city's zoning code. It also denied a request for a zoning variance.
Ability Housing and Disability Rights Florida filed lawsuits against the city, alleging discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Department of Justice joined the plaintiff’s action in December 2016.
Under the agreement, which settled the claims brought by the two disability rights groups, Jacksonville must provide a new $1.5 million grant for similar housing arrangements within city limits during the next year.
The city code will be amended to treat supportive housing arrangements as other multiple dwelling units and to allow exceptions for these facilities within the city zoning code. A special procedure would be created for individuals to request reasonable accommodations or modifications of the city code requirements.
“While this is obviously a big victory for Ability Housing, it is an even bigger victory for individuals with disabilities in the City of Jacksonville,” David Boyer, lead counsel for Disability Rights Florida, said in a news release. “This settlement will help to ensure that discrimination doesn’t affect our clients’ and constituents’ choice to live in the community.”
The City also reached a separate settlement with the DOJ requiring it to pay a $25,000 civil penalty, provide FHA and ADA training, and designate a compliance officer, among other requirements.
“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, in a news release. “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.”
Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights Florida are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Florida, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.