Saturday, June 17, 2017

City's Application Of Zoning Regulations To Prevent Use Of 12-Unit Building As "Supportive Housing" For Disabled Homeless Veterans To Cost It Nearly $2 Million To Settle Fair Housing Lawsuits

In Jacksonville, Florida, WOKV-Radio 104.5 FM reports:
  • A multi-year dispute over a Springfield housing project has now come to a close- and it’s costing the City of Jacksonville close to $2 million and some changes to zoning code.

    This started when the nonprofit Ability Housing announced plans for a 12-unit apartment building in Springfield, which they would rework to serve as “supportive housing” for disabled homeless veterans. Through a lengthy proves, the project was denied the needed approval from the City, which claimed that the housing project violated the Springfield Zoning Overlay which restricted “special uses” including residential treatment facilities and similar groupings. Ability Housing maintained they would fit within the zoning code, because no on-site services would be provided, so the project would, in essence, be a multiple-family dwelling- which was allowed.

    In 2015, Ability Housing filed a lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville for a violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disability Rights Florida also sued, and was later consolidated in to Ability Housing’s claim. The US Department of Justice further brought forward a claim against the City in 2016.

    WOKV was the first to tell you earlier this year that federal court records showed agreements had been reached to settle this pending litigation. Three bills were filed with the City Council- two of which contain the settlements of the two lawsuits, and the third dealing with changing the Springfield Zoning Overlay- which is a condition of the settlements. The bills were snagged at the Committee level for some time over the zoning provisions, but all three bills have now passed the full City Council.

    Under the settlement, Jacksonville commits to awarding a $1.5 million grant through a competitive grant process, with the money going to permanent supportive housing for persons with disabilities. Additionally, Jacksonville is paying Ability Housing $400,000 and Disability Rights Florida $25,000 in fees and expenses, as well as a $25,000 fine to the Justice Department.

    On the administrative side, there are some zoning changes, to include a statement of intent that the code be interpreted under civil rights law and that persons with disabilities can request and receive reasonable accommodations. City representatives involved in zoning, permitting, housing, and similar areas will also be retrained under the Fair Housing Act and Americans With Disabilities Act, and the City will designate a Fair Housing Compliance Officer.

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