Posts Tagged ‘Fair Housing Act’

Housing Project Allowed To Refuse Mentally Ill Applicant

OCTOBER 25, 1999 VOLUME 7, NUMBER 17

In 1980, a non-profit group in Cleveland, Ohio, applied for federal funds to renovate a former Franciscan Monastery. Our Lady of Angels Apartments, Inc., used the money to turn the former monastery into housing for the elderly and disabled. A decade later, Our Lady of Angels was sued by a prospective tenant over allegations that they did not provide housing for the mentally ill.

Our Lady of Angels made the conversion into housing for the elderly under the National Housing Act of 1959. That law set up federal loan programs to encourage development of housing projects. When Our Lady of Angels first proposed what became known as Franciscan Village, it planned to “provide housing and appropriate support service to persons over sixty-two years of age or physically handicapped.” The loan was approved, and the conversion was completed.

In 1988, Congress adopted amendments to the Fair Housing Act. Those amendments prohibit discrimination on the basis of handicap, regardless of the nature of the handicap. Some advocates have argued that the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 require programs like Franciscan Village to accept all disabled applicants, regardless of the nature of the disability.

Also in 1988, Roseanne Beckert applied to be put on the waiting list for Franciscan Village. She indicated that she was disabled, but did not describe her disability. When an opening developed in 1993, Ms. Beckert filled out the formal application, indicating that her disability was a “mental-schizo” condition, and that she was being treated with medication. Our Lady of Angels determined that she was neither elderly nor physically handicapped, and declined her application to reside at Franciscan Village.

Ms. Beckert sued, claiming that the Fair Housing Act Amendments prohibited Our Lady of Angels from choosing to accept only applicants with certain kinds of disabilities. In response, Our Lady of Angels pointed to its federal loan application, which specifically noted that it did not possess the skills or resources to handle the mentally ill or developmentally disabled. Nothing in the new law adopted in 1988, argued Our Lady of Angels, required that they begin accepting handicapped applicants of all ages, regardless of the nature of their disability.

The Federal District Court in Cleveland agreed with Our Lady of Angels, and dismissed Ms. Beckert’s lawsuit. She appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the appellate judges also agreed with Our Lady of Angels’ arguments. Ms. Beckert will not be entitled to move into a federally-funded housing program designed for the elderly and physically disabled. Beckert v. Our Lady of Angels Apartments, Inc., Sept. 27, 1999.

Michigan City’s Exclusion of Adult Care Home Reversed

JANUARY 6, 1997 VOLUME 4, NUMBER 27

Mortenview Manor is an adult foster home in Taylor, Michigan. The facility is housed in a ranch-style home, and houses six elderly disabled individuals. It is a for-profit business, and is owned by Smith & Lee Associates, Inc.

Six years ago, Mortenview was expanded from three bedrooms to six, with the intention of increasing the number of residents from six to twelve. The City of Taylor was approached about zoning requirements for the increase (the City had already approved the building permits necessary to increase the size of Mortenview).

Michigan law requires every city to permit up to six unrelated individuals in a single home in residential neighborhoods, and so Mortenview’s previous status was not in question. The City of Taylor, however, has a zoning ordinance limiting the number of unrelated persons in a residential neighborhoods to six, and so zoning examiners advised Mortenview that it would need a zoning variance before it could increase its size.

Mortenview applied for the change in zoning, but the City of Taylor refused. The reasons given for the refusal were that the proposed use would be inconsistent with the master plan for the area, and that the rezoning would permit additional inappropriate uses in the future. Mortenview’s owners, however, believed that the City was intentionally discriminating against group homes for the elderly, and particularly against for-profits.

Smith & Lee Associates (the owners) brought a Federal Court action against the City of Taylor, alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act. Believing that a violation had been committed, the U.S. Attorney’s office joined in suing the City. After several legal skirmishes (including one trip to the Court of Appeals), the Federal District Court agreed with Smith & Lee, and ordered the City of Taylor to change its zoning ordinance to permit twelve residents to live in for-profit adult foster care homes. The City was also ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. Finally, Smith & Lee was awarded $284,000 in damages for lost revenue during the pendency of the court proceedings.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals now agrees with most of the District Court’s logic, but rejects the lower court’s rulings. The Court of Appeals particularly notes that the use of adult foster care homes is beneficial to the demented elderly, and that refusal to make reasonable accommodations to permit such use is a violation of federal law by the City of Taylor.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals reverses the District Court’s order compelling the City to change its ordinance; courts do not have the power to order changes in the legislation, according to the opinion, but do have the power to invalidate local laws. Accordingly, the City is ordered to approve the Mortenview Manor application, but the City ordinance can not be changed by judicial order.

The Court of Appeals also determines that an enterprise like Mortenview can be profitable with only nine residents, and so orders the trial court to redetermine the amount of damage sustained by Smith & Lee based on nine residents rather than the twelve Smith & Lee sought. Finally, the Court of Appeals reverses the $20,000 fine against the City, finding that the evidence of intentional discrimination is weak.

One of the three appellate judges disagreed with portions of the Court of Appeals decision. Judge Aldrich agreed with the trial judge that “a strong message” should be sent to violators, that the “not in my backyard” attitude of the City of Taylor should be attacked, and that the evidence showed the City was motivated by “discriminatory animus” in refusing to accommodate Mortenview’s request to expand.

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