On December 12, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Statement of Interest (SOI) in Access Living v. City of Chicago, the Firm’s systemic housing accessibility case. In no uncertain terms, the SOI says that “Chicago has the authority, obligation, and ability to ensure that the private developers with whom it contracts provide affordable housing that is accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

The SOI responds to the City’s motion for summary judgment (filed on September 29, 2023) which claims that the City has no obligation under federal civil rights laws for the inaccessibility of its 50,000-unit Affordable Rental Housing Program because it neither owns nor operates the apartment buildings where they are located. The SOI flatly rejects each of the City’s arguments under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and confirms the arguments in Access Living’s opposition brief (filed November 17, 2023).

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. As a result of the Program’s inaccessibility, thousands of Chicagoans with disabilities have been forced to live on the street, in their cars, in nursing homes, in homeless shelters, or in other inadequate and dangerous housing, making it immeasurably harder for Access Living to deliver services. After years of trying to get the City to pay attention to its concerns about accessibility, if filed suit in May 2018, alleging the City violated Section 504, the ADA and the Fair Housing Act. The City’s motion to dismiss was denied in March 2019.

Discovery revealed serious accessible barriers in all of the developments examined by Access Living’s architectural accessibility expert. Another expert opined that the City had no mechanisms in place to ensure that units were built in compliance with federal accessibility requirements or that accessible units were reserved for people with disabilities.

The City has received $3.6 billion in federal housing and community development funds since 1988 but lacks any mechanism for ensuring that developers receiving funding from the Department of Housing actually build and operate accessible units. The City also admitted that it has not sanctioned a single developer for accessibility violations in the last 35 years.

DOJ files SOIs in a limited number of private civil rights cases each year, when the United States government “has a strong interest in the proper and uniform application” of important laws like Section 504 and the ADA. As one of the agencies charged with enforcement of these laws, DOJ’s views are given considerable deference by federal court judges.

The Relman Colfax litigation team includes Michael Allen, Jenn Klar, Valerie Comenencia Ortiz and Emily Curran, with paralegal assistance from Emma Block and Esmeralda Hermosillo.

A copy of DOJ’s Statement of Interest can be found here. A copy of Access Living’s summary judgment opposition brief can be found here.

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