On July 26, after a two-day trial, a federal jury awarded $293,000 in damages to the city of Springfield, Illinois, for attempting to shut down a group home for people with an intellectual disability in 2016.
In 2014, three residents with intellectual and physical disabilities moved into a single-family home on Noble Avenue in Springfield, Illinois, where they received community-based residential services from a state-licensed provider, Individual Advocacy Group ( IAG). Such arrangements, known as Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILA), allow residents with disabilities to live in an integrated community setting rather than in an institution. Even though the home was operating according to state requirements, the city attempted to shut it down in 2016. The city relied on a local spacing ordinance that prohibited two homes for the disabled from operating within 600 feet apart.
The United States sued the city of Springfield in 2017. In 2020, the Court ruled that the city violated the Fair Housing Act by enforcing the spacing ordinance against the home, granting the US motions. United and IAG for summary judgment on liability. . This week’s jury trial was to determine damages for any harm caused by the city’s conduct. The jury determined that the City should pay a total of $293,000: $162,000 in compensatory damages to the residents of the house and their guardians and $131,000 in compensatory damages to IAG.
“The Fair Housing Act prevents cities from maintaining discriminatory zoning laws and enforcing them against their citizens,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This verdict recognizes the significant pain and real harm that results when authorities take discriminatory action to shut down group homes. We will continue to vigorously enforce the FHA to ensure that people with disabilities can live in the communities and housing of their choice, free from discrimination.
“Persons with disabilities should have the same housing choices as everyone in our community,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua I. Grant for the Central District of Illinois. “The jury verdict shows how people with disabilities can often face obstacles that make their lives more difficult and erode their dignity. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work with the Department of Justice to ensure equal access to housing and justice for citizens of the Central District of Illinois.
The United States is also seeking a civil penalty and an injunction requiring the City to take certain corrective and preventive measures. The US claim for such relief is pending before the Court.
Individual Advocacy Group and Mary B. Valencia, sister and guardian of one of the residents, are represented by Kennedy Hunt PC, a St. Louis, Missouri law firm.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of disability, race, color, religion, national origin, gender, and marital status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it administers is available at www.justice.gov/crt. People who believe they have experienced housing discrimination can submit a report online at www.civilrights.justice.gov, or can contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at www.hud.gov.