Jonathan Bilyk Sep. 19, 2013, 9:58am

A group of Hispanic homeowners living in a trailer park has brought a federal suit against the Village of Wheeling, accusing city officials of discrimination and using damage from recent floods as an excuse to push residents out and claim the land for development of homes for high income earners.

On Sept. 11, the group of 49 residents -- led by plaintiff Ranulfo Teran and through Chicago attorney Kelli Dudley -- filed suit against Wheeling that asks Chicago’s federal court to restrain the village from prosecuting alleged building code violations within their neighborhood and to award them damages.

The homeowners argue in their complaint that the village and its building officials have violated the federal Fair Housing Act in enforcing the village’s building codes within the mobile home community in the northern Cook County suburb.

The building code enforcement actions began within the neighborhood of about 40 mobile homes after the nearby Des Plaines River overflowed its banks and flooded the community in April.

Although the community’s grounds flooded, few of the homes actually suffered damage, as “in most cases, the water did not rise above the skirting of the mobile home,” which is a decorative element used to cover the empty space between the ground and the floor of the mobile home, the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint.

“If water is below the top of the skirting, it has not reached the actual mobile home,” the plaintiffs assert.

However, the suit contends that village building officials have “effectively condemned the mobile homes by citing the owners with code violations.”

In the complaint, Dudley cited instances in which initial inspections by village officials were performed and “no code violations are cited.” But in some instances, as soon as one month later, “the very same property is inspected” and “a violation is noted and citation issued even though there has been no change in the property.”

“A village of Wheeling employee told one homeowner he might as well prepare to move,” the complaint states..

The suit also alleges that, after issuing the citations, the village has denied “work permits to allow repair of the damage or alleged damage.”

The plaintiffs assert that the village’s actions are discriminatory because, even though Wheeling lists its demographics as 56.7 percent white, the mobile home community’s homeowners are 88 percent Hispanic.

Further, the plaintiffs cite Wheeling’s comprehensive land development plan, which both laments a lack of land available for “single family housing for upper income buyers,” “singles out the mobile home park as a problem area” and labels the area in which the mobile home community lies as “one of Wheeling’s biggest challenges in terms of future land use.”

The plaintiffs assert that Wheeling’s comprehensive plan “does not provide sufficient replacement housing within the redevelopment areas to allow displaced Hispanic residents to remain in the village of Wheeling.”

While the village has “selectively enforced” its codes against the Hispanic homeowners, the complaint alleges that officials “provided pumps and worked to mitigate the losses” of homeowners in “a predominantly white community along the Des Plaines River” that was also flooded at the same time.

Building code violation citations were also not issued in that neighborhood, where “homes were flooded and damage in the same way as those belonging to” the Hispanic homeowners, the complaint alleges.

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