Andrew Thomason Mar. 12, 2015, 12:42pm

The Chicago Housing Authority erred by not taking into consideration a woman’s circumstances before deciding to kick her out of a housing program, an appeals panel held earlier this month.

The First District Appellate Court, in an unpublished order filed March 3, reversed the Cook County Associate Judge David B. Atkins' ruling that allowed the CHA to boot Debra Carroll from the Housing Choice Voucher Program over a 2009 drunk driving conviction.

Carroll was living in housing through the Housing Choice Voucher Program, a federal program commonly referred to as Section 8 housing that provides housing vouchers to low-income people so they can live in communities instead of housing projects. Carroll was provided vouchers through the CHA, which administers the program in Chicago.

In August of 2012, the CHA sent Carroll a letter informing her she was being kicked out of the program because of a drunk driving conviction she received in 2009.

CHA claimed her conviction violated a family obligations form required by the federal program, which requires participants to “not engage in violent criminal activity” and "not abuse alcohol in a way that threatens the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents and persons residing in the immediate vicinity of the premises."

In her administrative appeal of CHA’s decision, Carroll argued she was not drunk at the time of her arrest. She was pulled over with another person in 2009 for a cracked tail light and during the stop, police found an open liquor bottle under the front passenger seat. She told police the bottle belonged to her passenger and she didn’t know it was in the car.

During the stop, police also learned Carroll's license had been suspended for unpaid parking tickets and arrested her. She was eventually charged with a DUI. Carroll claimed she was never given sobriety or breathalyzer tests, either in the field or at the police station, but pleaded guilty to avoid the possibility of jail time.

As required by her guilty plea, Carroll said she completed an alcohol abuse class and successfully completed her probation.

The CHA asserted that Carroll’s refusal to take responsibility for her DUI played a major factor in its decision to boot her from the program, as well as her inability to produce evidence that she took and completed an alcohol abuse course.

The appellate court, however, said the CHA was wrong to kick her out of the program.

The “hearing officer's conclusion that because plaintiff did not provide documentary evidence that she successfully completed an alcohol abuse program, she did not complete the program was conclusory at best,” Justice Daniel J. Pierce wrote for the panel.

He added, “The CHA cannot arbitrarily ignore plaintiff's statement that she successfully completed a court required program where she completed her probation satisfactorily and a court record supporting the statement was in evidence.”

The justices also noted noted that there is nothing in the Section 8 Code of Conduct that required Carroll to “accept responsibility” for her DUI.

“Other than the singular DUI conviction, there was no evidence that plaintiff had engaged in any other criminal conduct, criminal activity or alcohol abuse," Pierce wrote.

"The hearing officer's conclusion that the evidence showed a likelihood of future misconduct based on a single 2009 traffic offense that occurred off-site with no evidence of other offensive conduct that would establish by a preponderance of the evidence that termination of benefits was warranted and justified leaves us with a firm conviction that a mistake has been made,” he added.

Justices John B. Simon and P. Scott Neville concurred in the ruling.

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