Justice Department Resolves Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut
(STL.News) The Justice Department announced today it has reached an agreement with the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, to settle a lawsuit alleging that the Town violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to allow the operation of a group home for adults with disabilities in a residential neighborhood.
The settlement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, resolves a lawsuit that the department filed in December 2020. Today’s settlement also resolves a related suit brought by the housing provider and property owner of the proposed group home, SELF Inc. and L&R Realty Inc. The department’s lawsuit arose from a complaint that SELF and L&R Realty filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which referred the matter to the Justice Department.
“Local governments do not have the right to use zoning laws and restrictions as a vehicle to discriminate against people with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Individuals with disabilities have the right to equal housing opportunities, and the Department of Justice is committed to vigorous enforcement of federal law to stop municipalities from violating this right.”
“Wolcott’s town officials attempted to prohibit the operation of a home that would establish a place where persons with disabilities can live productive lives,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Leonard C Boyle of the District of Connecticut. “This type of discrimination is unacceptable. The settlement agreement and future action required by the Town should serve as fair warning to other municipalities that our office is committed to pursuing violations of the Fair Housing Act in Connecticut.”
“Towns don’t have the right to enact zoning laws that make housing for persons with disabilities unavailable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Demetria McCain of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD commends the Justice Department for holding municipalities accountable for violating our nation’s housing laws and we look forward to working together to do even more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.”
The department’s lawsuit alleged that the Town of Wolcott violated the Fair Housing Act when it denied a special use permit to L&R Realty and SELF, which sought to open a residence for 13 adults with mental health disabilities.
At the time, the Town’s zoning regulations permitted the operation of community residences of up to 15 adults with disabilities so long as certain conditions were satisfied, and the United States alleged that the Town’s permit denial was because of the disabilities of the proposed residents. The complaint also alleged that, after learning about the proposed group home, the Town amended its zoning regulations to prohibit any community residence for adults with disabilities from operating in the Town.
Under the settlement, the Town will allow SELF’s group home to operate with up to 13 residents and will amend its zoning regulations to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including permitting group homes for persons with disabilities in residential districts, with the same size limitations applied to families of similar size, and implementing a reasonable accommodation policy.
The Town will also pay $350,000 in monetary damages to SELF and L&R Realty, as well as $10,000 to the United States. The Town also agreed to take a number of other actions to guard against housing discrimination, including training Town officials and employees about their obligations under federal law, designating a fair housing compliance officer, and reporting periodically to the Justice Department.