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August 9, 2011: United States Files Fair Housing Suit Against City of Joliet to Preserve Affordable Housing
The complaint alleges that Joliet’s eminent domain action threatens displacement of about 764 low-income residents, most of whom are African-American, requiring most to leave Joliet because of the lack of sufficient affordable housing elsewhere in the city. Such actions would violate the Fair Housing Act, due to their disparate impact and perpetuation of segregation, as well as the Housing and Community Development Act governing the CDBG program. The United States is seeking a court order prohibiting the alleged housing discrimination as well as unspecified monetary damages for those harmed by the city’s actions and a civil penalty.
The lawsuit alleges that the effect of the city’s actions and proposed actions is “to limit or reduce the number of Black or African-American residents residing within the City of Joliet. Such actions, if carried out, would have a disproportionate adverse impact on African-Americans and operate to perpetuate segregation in Joliet.”
Evergreen Terrace is a 356-unit apartment complex consisting of eight buildings on the west side of the Des Plaines River. Approximately 731 of 764 residents, or 95.6 percent, are African-American, while approximately 16 percent of Joliet’s 147,433 residents identified themselves as Black or African-American in the 2010 census. HUD subsidizes the rents at Evergreen Terrace under the project-based Section 8 program.
Beginning in 2001, the owners of Evergreen Terrace sought HUD approval to restructure the financing and rental assistance under the Multifamily Assisted Housing Reform and Affordability Act (MAHRA), in return for a commitment to continue providing affordable housing at Evergreen Terrace for at least 30 more years. HUD’s contractors, the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) and a private consulting firm, conducted an independent assessment of Evergreen Terrace, determining that the city’s objections that the property was blighted lacked merit and that there was a critical need for the affordable housing provided by a restructured and rehabilitated Evergreen Terrace. After HUD approved the restructuring in 2005, the city filed its condemnation action, which was removed to federal court, where HUD intervened as a defendant. City of Joliet v. Mid-City National Bank of Chicago, et al., No. 05 C 6746. After two trips to the 7th Circuit, that proceeding remains pending; the United States will seek consolidation of the two actions.
A tenant of Evergreen Terrace also filed a fair housing complaint with HUD in 2009, alleging that Joliet’s actions violated the Fair Housing Act. HUD referred the complaint to the Justice Department pursuant to a provision in the Fair Housing Act that authorizes DOJ enforcement when HUD refers a complaint alleging discriminatory zoning or land use practices by a local government.
The U.S. lawsuit seeks to enjoin the city from proceeding with the condemnation without ensuring that there will be sufficient and adequate affordable housing for Evergreen Terrace displacees and to require the City to take steps to prevent the recurrence of any similar discriminatory conduct. Read the United States' Press Release.