To mark Fair Housing Month, The Takeaway (produced by WNYC and syndicated nationally to over 300 NPR member stations) devoted its Deep Dive segment on April 28 to the Fair Housing Act. The third segment features the firm’s successful litigation and settlement of Deakin v. Old Town Triangle Association, a disability discrimination case brought in federal court in Chicago.
In the interview, lead plaintiff Ava Deakin describes how her family bought a house in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood when she was 13 and sought to make it accessible for her as a progressive disability required her to use a wheelchair and leg braces with increasing regularity. Even though Ava’s family secured all of the approvals required by state and local agencies, the Association repeatedly appealed the approvals, filed a lawsuit in state court and ended up delaying the accessibility work by nearly two years. She speaks movingly about how the Association’s resistance made her feel like she “was the problem” for trying to address her accessibility needs.
Michael Allen told The Takeaway that neighbors questioned whether Ava was “disabled enough” to need modifications to the home and suggested that a family whose daughter “had special needs” should not seek to live in an historic neighborhood. When voluntary resolution proved impossible, the firm filed a case on behalf of Ava and her parents in December 2019, alleging disability discrimination, discriminatory statements and retaliation claims under the Fair Housing Act.
The Association defended the litigation by claiming that the historic designation of certain buildings in its neighborhood shielded it from having to permit the accessibility changes Ava needed. Discovery and depositions of key Association officials revealed that the Association had resisted other efforts to make the neighborhood more accessible and had mobilized a public relations campaign against the Deakins’ modifications.
The parties entered into a settlement agreement in March 2021, and the Deakins have moved into their renovated home. The settlement agreement says that “OTTA looks forward to welcoming the Deakins to the Triangle in the summer of 2021” and that the parties “have agreed to continue working together in the coming years by forming an Accessibility Committee to ensure that the Old Town Triangle Historic District and the iconic OTTA Art Fair are made even more accessible to—and welcoming for—people with disabilities.” The remainder of the settlement terms are confidential.
Inspired by the experience of standing up for her own rights, Ava has written Tomorrow Begins Now, a book featuring interviews with other young activists who have fought against injustice. It is due out in September 2022.