City of Fresno, California agrees to $535,000 in Justice Department disability discrimination case

The city of Fresno, California will pay $535,000 and will no longer oppose the renovationof an apartment building which will provide housing for persons with mental disabilitiesunder an agreement reached with the Department of Justice in April. The settlementresolves a fair housing complaint filed by the Justice Department which alleged cityofficials' actions had denied housing opportunities to persons based on disability.

CityCouncil member opposed allowing mentally disabled tenants to live in building

A private lawsuit, filed by a California man and two Fresno non-profit agencies, wasalso settled under the agreement. The agencies, Family Alliance for the Mentally Ill andAffordable Homes, Inc., had sought to renovate a 22-unit vacant complex. They met withstiff opposition from a Fresno city council member when it was learned that mentallydisabled persons would live in the renovated building called Cedar Heights.

Under the settlement agreement, the city agreed to provide the following:

  • Training for its employees and officials to ensure they will not discriminate againstpersons with disabilities in the future;
  • $445,000 in grants to help pay for the renovation of the Cedar Heights apartmentbuilding;
  • $85,000 to cover the plaintiffs' legal costs;
  • $5,000 to cover the housing costs of the man who could not move into Cedar Heights whilerenovation was delayed;
  • A community outreach program to inform the public about services and benefits availableto Fresno residents with disabilities; and
  • A review of Fresno's current housing programs to determine if any changes are needed toaccommodate persons with disabilities.

City violated law by "going along" with Council member's plan to keepdisabled persons out

According to the Justice Department, the City violated the Fair Housing Act and othercivil rights laws when its officials went along with one council member's campaign to keeppersons with mental disabilities out of Cedar Heights. The Councilman, who is no longer onthe Council, wanted guarantees that the tenants at Cedar Heights would not "exposethemselves" or defecate on his constituents' lawns. Without that guarantee, the mansaid that he would burn the building down.

The City's actions not only denied housing opportunities to potential tenants at CedarHeights; they also forced a man ready to move in to find other suitable housing while therenovation was held up.

Cedar Heights renovation will address Fresno's need for affordable housing formentally disabled

Charles Stevens, the US Attorney in Sacramento, said that opposition to housing for thedisabled was "counterproductive." He went on to say, "Everyone agreed thatthe proposed renovation of Cedar Heights will help address the lack of affordable housingfor people with mental disabilities in Fresno. We're glad that the city and the non-profitagencies will be able to devote their time and resources to the renovation, instead oflitigation."

Isabelle Katz Pinzler, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, agreed withStevens. "Stereotypical attitudes should not stand in the way of the right of peoplewith mental disabilities to find an affordable place to live." She later added,"We are pleased that the City agreed to work out our concerns."

Protection and Advocacy, Inc., Mental Health Advocacy Services, the Western Center onLaw and Poverty, Central California Legal Services, and Fresno attorney Jack Danielrepresented the plaintiffs in the private lawsuit against the city.

Jack Daniel, who works with Central California Legal Services commented, "NIMBYismis on the upswing and politicians are demagoguing behind it. Now is the time for advocatesto dig in. The law is good. Dig in and fight like hell and we'll win."

from June 1997 Advocate