Large Florida Housing Developer Accused of Housing Discrimination

Washington, DC — West Palm Beach Coalition for Independent Living Options (CILO) and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) have filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against Cornerstone Group Development Corporation (www.cornerstonegrp.com), one of the largest multifamily housing developers in Florida and the United States. The organizations allege discrimination by Cornerstone Group and several of its affiliates against people with disabilities under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Collectively, NFHA and Palm Beach CILO investigated 28 Cornerstone Group properties around Florida and found each to be in violation of the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

“It is always a struggle to find accessible affordable housing for people with disabilities,” said Genevieve Cousminer, executive director of West Palm Beach CILO. “We have an expectation that the limited supply of housing built after 1991 will be constructed in an accessible fashion. It is discouraging – and illegal – when a major developer of housing does not ensure that its new housing is open and accessible for everyone.”

The complaint also notes the millions of dollars in state and federal housing financing and subsidies that the Cornerstone Group has received in recent years, including funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, HOME program and Community Development Block Grant program, and subsidies through the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

“In order to receive funding from the State of Florida and the United States government, the Cornerstone Group guaranteed that their apartments would conform to civil rights laws,” said Shanna L. Smith, NFHA President and CEO. “Instead, Cornerstone broke those promises by consistently developing apartment buildings that keep out people with disabilities. This is inexcusable, and its time for both Florida and HUD to speak up and ensure their funds are being used to promote access to housing, not limit it.”

The lawsuit alleges that since 1993, the Cornerstone Group and several of its affiliates have engaged in a continuous pattern or practice of discrimination against people with disabilities by designing and/or constructing multifamily dwellings, and common- and public-use areas, without those required accessibility features. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. The law was specifically amended in 1988 to add protections for people with disabilities, and builders, developers, architects, and others have had to comply with accessible design and construction requirements since March 13, 1991.

“The Fair Housing Act could not be clearer when it comes to standards for housing developers to follow,” continued Smith. “It is astonishing to me that we continue to find this level of disregard for the law. National and regional developers continue to build properties that either keep people with disabilities out entirely or make the apartments simply impossible to use once inside.”

The lawsuit alleges a number of ways in which Cornerstone buildings are inaccessible. These include: steps in front of entryways and garages; kitchens and bathrooms with insufficient maneuvering space for wheelchair users at sinks and toilets; doorways that are too narrow; thermostats placed too high; inaccessible entrances to public spaces including mail rooms; and accessible parking without the required access aisle for people with mobility impairments to leave or enter their parked vehicles.

The apartment complexes with alleged violations are in: Coconut Creek, Daytona Beach, Ellenton, Florida City, Fort Pierce, Fort Myers, Hallandale Beach, Hialeah, Homestead, Jacksonville, Lake Worth, Lauderdale Lakes and North Lauderdale, Miami and North Miami, Middleburg, Miramar, Oakland Park, Ormond Beach, Pompano Beach, Riviera Beach, Ruskin, Tampa and Brandon, Viera, West Palm Beach.

The National Fair Housing Alliance and the West Palm Beach Coalition for Independent Living Options are represented by Mehri & Skalet, PLLC in Washington, DC and the Law Offices of Matthew W. Dietz, P.L. in Miami, Florida.

“At bottom this case is about our national commitment to a humane and compassionate society,” said Janell Byrd, Esq. of Mehri & Skalet, PLLC. “While these may seem like technical violations, they make the difference in the ability of persons with disabilities to live independently and to be able to control their lives with dignity and respect. We intend to correct these violations and change Cornerstone’s illegal practices.”

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About the National Fair Housing Alliance (www.nationalfairhousing.org)

Founded in 1988, the National Fair Housing Alliance is a consortium of more than 120 private, non-profit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights groups, and individuals from 37 states and the District of Columbia. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., NFHA, through comprehensive education, advocacy and enforcement programs, provides equal access to apartments, houses, mortgage loans and insurance policies for millions of people.

About West Palm Beach Coalition for Independent Living Options (www.cilo.org)

The Coalition for Independent Living Options, Inc.’s (CILO) vision is that people with disabilities will live independently in a barrier-free community. CILO is recognized in the community as the advocacy agency for people with disabilities. CILO promotes equality of opportunity for people with disabilities in housing, travel, education, employment, and access to community and public services. It also promotes equality of opportunity for people with disabilities by working to prevent homelessness, advocating for fair housing by educating and assisting individuals to obtain modifications and accommodations in housing, outreach and disability sensitivity seminars.