By DAVID YATES
The federal government is seeking to stop the city of Beaumont from violating the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The complaint was filed May 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division.
The lawsuit alleges that the city discriminated against persons with disabilities based on its treatment of small group homes and companion care homes for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities by applying overly-restrictive zoning and fire code restrictions that are not imposed on similarly-situated housing for individuals without disabilities.
“The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act seek to ensure that individuals with disabilities can live in communities of their choice without facing discrimination,” said Vanita Gupta, a principal deputy assistant attorney general of the civil rights division. “This lawsuit furthers our commitment to community inclusion for persons with disabilities.”
The suit seeks a court order prohibiting Beaumont from imposing a one-half mile spacing rule that effectively prohibits many small group homes and companion care homes from operating in Beaumont.
The suit further seeks to prohibit Beaumont from imposing unnecessary fire code requirements that exceed those mandated by the state of Texas, which regulates such homes.
The city has also required community homes for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities to install various fire safety measures, including:
-Automatic sprinkler systems;
– Commercial ventilated kitchen hoods with sprinkler systems;
– Lighted exit signs on every bedroom and exit door;
– “Hard-wired” fire alarm systems with a direct connection to the fire department;
– Key boxes; and
– Lowered windows.
“These fire safety requirements are required for community homes, regardless of size, including in an individual apartment unit where one person with a disability may live,” the suit states.
“The City does not impose these requirements on single-family residences and apartments occupied by persons who are not related and who do not have intellectual or developmental disabilities.”
The government maintains the city’s excessive restrictions have prohibited numerous persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities from living in Beaumont and resulted in the institutionalization in a nursing home of a woman who was forced to move out of her home.
“Fair housing practices for all Americans and certainly for individuals with disabilities is a keystone civil right and one which today’s legal action underscores,” said U.S. Attorney John Malcolm Bales of the Eastern District of Texas. “We trust that the city of Beaumont will respond appropriately but the department and the U.S. Attorney’s office is prepared to take the necessary steps to insure that these rights are enforced.”
The lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities whose homes were closed and were threatened with closure under Beaumont’s challenged housing restrictions, according to a press release.
“Persons with disabilities should not be further limited in their housing options by overly restrictive codes and policies,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez. “HUD will continue to work with the Justice Department to support neighborhood-based choices for people with disabilities.”
The suit also seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, as well as payment of a civil penalty.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch represents the government.
Case No. 1:15-cv-00201-RC