Judge says advocacy group for disabled can sue Chicago for non-ADA subsidized housing

By Dan Churney | Apr 2, 2019

Roman Boed from The Netherlands [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

A Chicago federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit by an advocacy agency for the disabled, which alleged for decades the city of Chicago has not ensured its subsidized housing is accessible to those with disabilities, saying the agency has put forth believable arguments the city's alleged shortcomings caused it to spend extra resources to help the disabled find suitable housing.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow laid down the decision March 29 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. His ruling favored Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago in a suit the group brought against the city of Chicago. Access Living describes itself as an organization committed to improving the living arrangements of disabled people.

Access Living sued the city in 2018, alleging the city has violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act. The alleged violations have occurred through what Access Living terms the city's Affordable Rental Housing Program. 

Under the program, the city has distributed millions of dollars since 1988 for construction and rehabilitation of more than 50,000 rental units. However, the city, as a recipient of federal funds, has allegedly failed to ensure many of these units comply with federal accessibility requirements. As examples, Access Living alleged bathrooms were not accessible and doorways were too narrow for wheelchairs. Also, the city allegedly does not know how many units are accessible and where such units may be located.

Access Living claimed the city's alleged failures have made it difficult for the agency to place clients in homes and makes it expend resources it otherwise would not use up.

The city moved to have the case dismissed on grounds Access Living suffered no harm and wasn't specific in its complaint. However, Judge Dow did not agree.

Dow noted there is a "relatively low bar for a housing organization to establish standing" to sue, which Access Living has met.

"According to the complaint, the City’s actions impede Plaintiff’s day to day operations by making it much more difficult for Access Living to help place clients in accessible affordable housing and, in turn, provide services to clients in their homes. This reduces the total amount of services that Plaintiff is able to provide and the effectiveness of those services," Dow said.

Dow went on to cite a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a similar case, which said, "Such concrete and demonstrable injury to the organization’s activities — with the consequent drain on the organization’s resources — constitutes far more than simply a setback to the organization’s abstract social interests."

Dow pointed out Access Living plausibly argues it has had to spend significant time and money to help clients find housing, because of the city's alleged failures to make sure proper housing is available. In other words, Dow said the city has plausibly "undermined the effectiveness and reach" of Access Living's services.

Dow further found Access Living has made a credible case that the city has the ability to make sure the units are accessible, through its contracts, loan and regulatory agreements, and covenants with developers and owners.

The city claimed Access Living's claims were vague, but Dow described the 44-page complaint as " detailed" and "well-organized."

The city also contended a two-year statute of limitations applies, so any allegations beyond that limit are disqualified. Dow responded there is a "continuing violation" exception that allows the entire breadth of the suit to stand, if the suit was filed within two years of the last alleged violation.

Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago is represented by its in-house attorneys, as well as by Relman, Dane & Colfax, of Washington, D.C.

The city is defended by attorneys from its Department of Law.

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Organizations in this Story

Access Living City of Chicago Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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