Jacksonville Sued for Discriminating Against Low-Income Housing Development

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by Andy Jones
December 31, 2016

Following the lead of Disability Rights Florida, the Department of Justice commenced a lawsuit December 20 against the City of Jacksonville, for denying an application for a low-income housing project for people with disabilities.

In March 2014, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation awarded the nonprofit Ability Housing a nearly $1.4 million grant to revitalize a 12-unit building in the City’s Springfield Historic District, north of downtown.
 
A month later, two city residents filed a “Request for Written Interpretation” to the City Planning Commission, regarding the proposal's compliance with a 2000 city ordinance meant to limit group home and related developments in the historical district. According to the DOJ complaint, the City received dozens of emails relating to panhandling, safety and related concerns.

Ability Housing argued the proposal complied with the ordinance, noting that the residents would each have their own leases and that services would be provided off-site.

The Commission, however, voted 6-2 against the proposal, on the basis that it constituted a prohibited “special use” under the ordinance. It also rejected a request for a zoning variance, as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts.

“City officials acquiesced to community opposition to Ability Housing’s plan for the property,” the DOJ wrote in its complaint.

Ability Housing sued the city in November 2015. Disability Rights Florida filed a second lawsuit a week later, and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida consolidated the two actions.

The DOJ lawsuit alleges violations under the FHA and ADA. It also seeks monetary damages, a civil penalty and injunctive relief to ensure future compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws.

“Housing is a fundamental right for everyone. Jacksonville’s resistance to fair and equal zoning laws gave us little choice but to pursue this litigation on behalf of individuals with disabilities,” Molly Paris, an attorney at Disability Rights Florida, said in a news release from when the lawsuit was filed.

Videos about the lawsuit can be seen here from ABC News and News 4 Jacksonville

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights Florida are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Florida, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.