Justice Department Sues Springfield, Illinois

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The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit alleging that the City of Springfield, Illinois, has discriminated against persons with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, alleges that Springfield’s zoning code treats small group homes for persons with disabilities less favorably than similarly-situated housing for people without disabilities. The department’s complaint further alleges that, even if the zoning code were valid, Springfield violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to grant an exception that would allow a three-person group home for individuals with disabilities to continue operating in a residential neighborhood.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits cities from applying their zoning laws in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on such discrimination.”

This case arose when the City of Springfield attempted to close a home with three residents with intellectual and physical disabilities because the home violated a 600-foot spacing requirement that applies to community residences for persons with disabilities. That spacing requirement does not apply to homes for up to five unrelated persons without disabilities. The small group home allowed two of the residents to move out of large institutions and live in an integrated community setting.

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting Springfield from enforcing the spacing requirement against this home or similarly-situated homes for persons with disabilities elsewhere in the city. The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, as well as payment of a civil penalty. A related case challenging Springfield’s spacing requirement was filed by the home’s service provider and one resident. The court in that case, A.D. ex rel. Valencia v. City of Springfield, issued a preliminary injunction against Springfield on Aug. 2, 2017. That ruling is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and familial status.