On April 18, 2017, the Village of Tinley Park, Illinois agreed to pay $2.45 million to settle fair housing claims brought by Buckeye Community Hope Foundation. The lawsuit alleged that Village officials' actions to block the development of Buckeye's affordable housing development had the purpose and effect of discriminating against African Americans and families with children. The settlement represents one of the largest monetary payments to an affordable housing provider for claims brought under the Fair Housing Act.
In early 2015, Buckeye began plans to develop The Reserve, a 47-unit affordable housing complex in Tinley Park that would serve the area's low-income households. The development would have disproportionately served African Americans and families with children and help address the acute shortage of affordable rental housing in the Tinley Park area. The Village was initially supportive of the project and found it to be in "precise compliance" with the applicable zoning codes. However, when the citizens of Tinley Park learned of the project they embarked on a vehement campaign to prevent the development.
Some Tinley Park residents expressed discriminatory attitudes toward African Americans, comparing The Reserve to now-demolished, predominantly African-American public housing developments in Chicago. The opponents argued that The Reserve would be more appropriately developed in nearby predominantly African-American communities. Opponents also expressed discriminatory views about low-income families with children.
As described in the complaint, Village officials acceded to the discrimination, expressing their support for the opponents, revealing their own discriminatory attitudes, and ultimately taking a series of unprecedented and impermissible actions intended to delay and derail the project.
On April 19, 2016, Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a complaint in federal district court in Chicago alleging that the Village's actions discriminated against African Americans and families with children and perpetuated segregation in the community. After conducting preliminary discovery, the parties negotiated the multi-million dollar settlement. The settlement sends a strong message to municipalities that there is a steep price to pay for discriminating and will permit Buckeye to identify other opportunities to acquire and develop parcels for affordable housing in high opportunity communities throughout the Midwest and Southeast.
The litigation team was led by Joseph Wardenski, Reed Colfax, and Alexa Milton of Relman, Dane & Colfax, who were joined by co-counsel Kate Walz of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Steven Elrod, Christopher Murdoch, and Hart Passman from the Chicago office of Holland & Knight.