Unfair Housing Persists in Joliet

By Zoe Chapin, William Staszak Intern

One year approaches since the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the city of Joliet, Illinois for violating the Fair Housing Act and the Housing and Community Development Act (HCDA). The city planned to condemn Evergreen Terrace, a federally subsidized housing apartment complex, on the grounds of eminent domain. The seven-building, 356-unit complex is just west of the Des Plaines River and houses approximately 764 residents, 95.6% of whom are African-American. The Department of Justice claims that Joliet’s seizure of the Evergreen Terrace could “limit or reduce the number of Black or African-American residents residing within the city of Joliet. Such actions, if carried out, would have a disproportionate adverse impact on African-Americans and operate to perpetuate segregation in Joliet.”

Joliet failed to provide a meaningful plan to relocate the residents of Evergreen Terrace all while continually trying to condemn the apartment complex. This necessitates government intervention to protect the housing rights of its residents, said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Tom Thanas Joliet’s city manager argues the city has pursued its condemnation lawsuit against the apartment complex since 2005 under the premise that the city would provide other living arrangements. Similarly, Joliet City Attorney Jeff Plyman asserts that the city’s so-called “insufficient” proposals for less-dense housing, such as the newly developed Liberty Meadows on Joliet’s east side are in fact an adequate fix. Contrary to this, Yolanda Chavez, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for grants programs requested specific changes to the city’s plan in a January 17th letter to the city. It stated, “Actions taken by the City to limit and reduce the stock of multifamily rental housing serving minority, single-parent households have led HUD to conclude that the City’s housing policies unlawfully restrict fair housing choice.”

Most recent reports explain that HUD officials continue to urge the city to drop their condemnation efforts and enter into a consent decree that would be approved by the courts. However, Joliet City Attorney Plyman said they will try to work with HUD, but have no plans to drop their condemnation efforts. The lawsuit is likely to be a lengthy process and cost Joliet, a cash-strapped city, a hefty amount in legal fees. Moreover, $1.3 million in HUD community block grant funds scheduled to be received in June or July will be withheld from Joliet since the city has neither succeeded in providing a viable plan to re-establish a sufficient amount of low-income housing units, nor has it withdrawn its motion to condemn the property.

The Department of Justice and of Housing and Urban Development vehemently opposes every form of discrimination and actively seeks to eliminate segregation and disparities in opportunity for citizens of all races. Lawsuits, like the one filed against Joliet show that local governments must be held accountable for promoting fair and affordable housing indiscriminately. It is the expectation that government agencies, at all levels, local, municipal, and federal should uphold ideals of equality and justice, when carrying out all functions, or face intervention. Certainly, community organizations, citizens, and government must take a zero-tolerance stance regarding discriminatory planning, to ensure a city scape that is inclusive of all residents.