The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

December 8, 2012

Housing discrimination complaint closed

BY JENNIFER BAILEY
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — A housing discrimination complaint against the city has been resolved. There was no monetary judgment against the city.

There was training required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and changes to the city’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing document.

The case was resolved this past summer.

There was a conciliation agreement between Melviry Battle, the complainant of 101 E. Seminary St., and Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, the respondent, that was approved by the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Regional Director on behalf of HUD.

The conciliation agreement states that the complaint was filed on Jan 13, 2011, with HUD alleging Battle was injured by a discriminatory act caused by the respondent, Eisenhauer.

According to court documents, Battle, an African-American veteran, alleged that Eisenhauer violated “the Fair Housing Act as amended in 1988, by discriminating in the terms, conditions or privileges of the rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services of facilities in connection therewith because of race.”

Battle alleged that in or around October 2010, Eisenhauer refused to sign off on a certificate of consistency with the city’s 2010-2015 Consolidated Plan so as to prevent Crosspoint Human Services from applying for federal program dollars to create rental housing subsidies and supportive services for chronically homeless veterans and families such as the complainant.

Eisenhauer, as the respondent, denies the allegations and admits no wrongdoing, but agreed to settle the claim. The agreement governs the conduct of the parties for two years. The agreement is voluntary and considered a full settlement of the disputed complaint.

Eisenhauer acknowledges he has an affirmative duty not to discriminate against anyone under the act on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability, and that it is unlawful to retaliate against any person because that person has made a complaint, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in a proceeding under the act.

Battle further acknowledges that any subsequent retaliation or discrimination constitutes both a material breach of the agreement and a statutory violation of the act.

The “Relief in the Public Interest” part of the agreement called for within 90 days of the effective date of the agreement, the city at its own expense, obtain at least two hours of fair housing training to be conducted by an appropriate agency or facility.

Training shall be provided to each and every city official who is required to sign a request for a certificate of consistency with the city’s 2010-2015 Consolidated Plan.

The training also was to be for every city official who provides input into the review process for the same, to the extent that the review touches on fair housing concerns. Written proof of attendance of the training was to be provided to the department upon completion.

Also according to the agreement, the city was to within 30 days develop a written policy to govern the city’s response to requests for certification of consistency with the city’s 2010-2015 Consolidated Plan. The written policy was subject to review and approval by HUD. The agreement was approved by HUD on June 12.

According to HUD, the Fair Housing Act requires HUD to bring parties in a housing discrimination case together to attempt conciliation in every fair housing complaint. The choice to conciliate the complaint is completely voluntary on the part of both parties.

Any conciliation agreement signed by HUD must protect the public’s interests. If the parties sign a conciliation agreement, HUD ends its investigation and closes the case, as was done with this case.

However, if either party breaches the agreement, HUD can recommend that the U.S. Department of Justice file suit to enforce the agreement.

There was no loss of any HUD funding and no charge for the training to the city.

Danville Neighborhood Development Manager John Dreher said the city worked out the differences, with no interruption in the city’s allocation or activities.

City officials who had to participate in the training at city hall were Eisenhauer, Public Development Director John Heckler, Dreher and Corporation Counsel David Wesner.

“(HUD) walked us through the fair housing statutes …,” Dreher said.

The document changes the city made was to change the tone of language to the city’s intention to replace, instead of the previous wording of reduce or tear down subsidized housing in the city. The city’s plan was changed to focus on moving families into multi-income areas, city officials said.

Dreher said the administration position is not different, but HUD “was very demanding for a positive path.”

According to original information in December 2010 from a Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law press release, four low-income African-American residents filed a federal civil rights complaint against Danville, alleging it violated civil rights laws by embarking on a campaign to substantially reduce the supply of affordable housing in the city. The housing discrimination complaint was originally filed in November 2010.

Eisenhauer has said from the beginning that reducing subsidized housing in the community is a “numbers issue” and “not an emotional issue about race or demographics.” He said requests for local resources continue to outpace what local resources can provide in the community.

He said social agencies, public education, health care and other organizations can’t continue to be overburdened with requests while seeing their own resources dwindle.

“This has and never has had anything to do with the color of someone’s skin, but rather what this community can afford to provide in resources,” Eisenhauer said in 2010. “With the numbers that exist today in Section 8 vouchers and public housing units, we are asked to take on far more than what resources we have available.”

Eisenhauer also didn’t deny not signing off on Crosspoint Human Services’ grant application for housing funding, for the same reasons of limited local resources.

Also as to contentions about the city not having an Analysis of Impediments or an incomplete one in past years to submit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — which identifies impediments to fair housing choice — Eisenhauer said HUD has always accepted and approved the city’s plan.

Four Fair Oaks residents had initially filed the civil rights complaint against the city.

They argued in the complaint filed with HUD that Eisenhauer’s plan to cut low-income housing is aimed at driving out people who aren’t longtime residents — largely black people who’ve moved to Danville in recent years.

The complainants, represented by the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Relman, Dane & Colfax, a Washington D.C.-based civil rights firm, also wanted Danville’s annual allocation of more than $1 million in federal housing and community development block grant funds cut off because the city’s actions violate the civil rights certifications it made in order to get the funds.