DOJ settles housing lawsuit with southern California city

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Inclusive communities victory in California

The Department of Justice and the city of San Jacinto reached an agreement June 10 to settle a lawsuit regarding the city’s zoning code and housing code enforcement.

In the lawsuit, filed in November 2012, the DOJ accused the city of violating both the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The DOJ argued that the city’s zoning code “impermissibly restricted the ability of group homes for people with disabilities to operate within the city.”

In addition, the DOJ alleged that the city’s targeted people with disabilities in its enforcement actions. Specifically, the city pointed to a 2008 sweep by law enforcement and city officials, which allegedly included a “prepared questionnaire that included intrusive questions targeted to persons with mental disabilities,” according to a DOJ news release.

“Municipalities and other governmental entities cannot violate federal civil rights statutes by hiding behind intentionally discriminatory laws designed to appear neutral on their face,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “No American should be denied his or her rights, subjected to harassment or excluded from our communities because of a disability.”

As part of the settlement, the city will pay $746,599 in compensatory damages to “housing providers and former residents with disabilities,” as well as attorneys fees and other court costs.

The city will also amend its zoning ordinance to include a new classification titled “Group Home for Persons with Disabilities,” improve training and submit periodic reports to the DOJ for the next five years.

The case was triggered by complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, before the DOJ took over the case.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California must still approve the settlement.