Washington, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — The Justice Department today announced that the city of Beaumont, Texas, has agreed to pay $475,000 and change its zoning and land use practices to resolve a lawsuit alleging that it discriminated against persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who sought to live in small group homes in the city’s residential neighborhoods. The consent decree must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
The lawsuit, filed on May 26, 2015, alleged that the city violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it imposed a one-half mile spacing rule that prohibited many small group homes from operating in Beaumont. The suit further sought to prohibit the city from imposing fire code requirements that exceeded those imposed by the state of Texas as part of its certification and funding of such homes. These restrictions prohibited numerous persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities from living in Beaumont and resulted in the institutionalization in a nursing home of a woman who was forced to move out of her home. Although the city alleged that its restrictions were justified by a Texas statute, the state of Texas later clarified in a statement it submitted to the court during the litigation that neither the spacing requirement nor the heightened fire code requirements were required by Texas law.
Under the terms of the consent decree, the city will allow small group homes to operate in any residential district and will not subject such homes to fire code requirements that exceed the state’s requirements for certification of such homes. The city will also pay $435,000 in monetary damages to 11 individuals with disabilities, their family members and companion care providers who were subject to the city’s discriminatory code enforcement practices. The city will also pay $15,000 to the United States as a civil penalty and $25,000 to Disability Rights Texas, the organization that represents the individuals who filed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) complaints and intervened in the United States’ lawsuit. Beaumont will take other remedial measures, including implementing a comprehensive reasonable accommodation policy, requiring its officials to attend fair housing training and appointing a fair housing compliance officer.
“Persons with disabilities have the same right to live in and enjoy their communities as all other families do throughout our nation,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to eliminate discriminatory barriers that impede these individuals from doing so.”
“I applaud the parties for reaching this common-sense, fair agreement,” said U.S. Attorney John M. Bales of the Eastern District of Texas. “Beaumont is a great city in which to live and the prior restrictions now being set aside were inconsistent with that greatness. Now everyone can reside where they wish in an environment that is best for their lives.”
“Group homes provide a critical source of housing for persons with disabilities and their availability shouldn’t be limited by discriminatory practices,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Today’s settlement reaffirms HUD and the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring that jurisdictions meet their obligation to adhere to the nation’s fair housing laws.”
The lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with HUD by persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities whose homes were closed and were threatened with closure under the city’s challenged housing restrictions. After conducting an investigation, HUD referred the matter to the Justice Department. The individuals who had filed complaints with HUD later intervened in the United States’ lawsuit. Today’s settlement resolves their lawsuit as well.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available atwww.justice.gov/crt. Persons who believe that they have experienced unlawful housing discrimination may contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743 or by e-mail at fairhousing (at) usdoj (dot) gov