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Relman, Dane & Colfax Sues City of Chicago for Failure to Ensure Its Affordable Housing Program is Accessible to People With Disabilities

On May 13, 2018, Relman, Dane and Colfax filed a lawsuit alleging that the City of Chicago’s affordable housing program is inaccessible to people with disabilities. The complaint--filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago--alleges that since 1988 the City directed hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding to private developers to create an Affordable Rental Housing Program (with more than 50,000 units) that does not comply with the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and the Fair Housing Act.

Access Living is a Center for Independent Living charged by federal law with providing a wide range of services to people with disabilities in Chicago. Over the last several years, it has received tens of thousands of inquiries from consumers seeking accessible, affordable housing. After many years of advocating for more such housing and assisting people with disabilities to find the relatively few available units, Access Living began an investigation to determine whether the City was complying with its obligations under federal accessibility laws. That investigation confirmed that the City lacks adequate safeguards to ensure that the rental properties built with City assistance include required accessibility features or that accessible units are reserved for people with disabilities.

At multiple properties in the Affordable Rental Housing Program, Access Living found significant barriers to accessibility, including front entrances with steps or other barriers blocking wheelchair access, doors that are too narrow for wheelchair passage, and kitchens and bathrooms that were too small for wheelchair users or where appliances and facilities were unusable by them. The complaint details how, because of the City’s noncompliance, low-income Chicagoans with disabilities struggle to find adequate housing and are often forced to live on the street, in their cars, in nursing homes, in homeless shelters, or in other inadequate and dangerous housing. The lawsuit requests that the City bring all developments in the Affordable Rental Housing Program into full compliance with federal law and to put in place policies and practices to provide meaningful access to the Program for individuals with disabilities.

This is the second accessibility case that Relman, Dane & Colfax has litigated against a major American city. In 2016, the Firm settled a case against the City of Los Angeles on behalf of nonprofit disability and fair housing advocacy groups. Pursuant to that settlement, Los Angeles agreed to bring at least 4,000 affordable apartment units into compliance with the heightened accessibility requirements of the ADA and Section 504, at an estimated cost of more than $200 million.

The Relman, Dane & Colfax litigation team is led by Michael Allen, Jennifer Klar, Laura Arandes, and Orly May. Ken Walden and Mary Rosenberg of Access Living are co-counsel.

Noteworthy Pleadings

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