Suit ends in $275,000 settlement for building rental housing inaccessible to persons in wheelchairs

SOUTH SUBURBAN HOUSING CENTER                                                  
18220 Harwood Avenue, Suite 1
Homewood, IL 60430
Tel. (708) 957-4674
Fax (708) 957-4761
E-mail: southsuburban@prodigy.net

For Immediate Release

January 12, 2005

A Consent Order was entered Friday, January 7, 2005, in Federal Court, for the Central District of Illinois, resolving claims against two of the five main builders sued on November 23, 2004, for designing and building rental housing in the Northfield Meadows subdivision of Bradley, that is inaccessible for disabled individuals who use wheelchairs, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

In settlement of the complaint brought by two local disability and housing advocacy organizations, Options Center for Independent Living of Bourbonnais and South Suburban Housing Center of Homewood, Defendants Giroux Apartments and Innovative Designs Custom Homes, have agreed to pay the equivalent of $275,000 to retrofit nine existing apartment buildings, redesign all future buildings planned for construction and to satisfy damage claims from the two plaintiff organizations.  Accessible housing violation claims are still pending against three other builders in the subdivision, G & V Development Co., Pommier Construction and Duchene Construction Co, as well as two architects who allegedly designed many of the inaccessible buildings, Stephen Kelly and Jeffrey Jarvis. 

Plaintiff Options Center for Independent Living is a local agency advocating for disabled individuals in Kankakee and Iroquois counties and plaintiff South Suburban Housing Center is a regional fair housing organization serving the south Chicago metropolitan area.  In their November 2004 Complaint, the plaintiffs cite major design barriers of one or more steps from outside every one of the defendant’s buildings to navigate at the common entrances and/or entrances to all individual units at the site.  These restrictions make it impossible for persons using a wheelchair to enter unassisted.  Also cited are several other violations regarding the design of the individual apartment’s bathrooms, kitchens, interior doorways, and electrical and environmental controls that are not in compliance with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility standards.  These federal laws have been in effect for all multi-family buildings constructed since 1991.

The relief agreed to will require these defendants to modify and retrofit the entrances, common areas, and interiors of ground floor apartments in nine buildings to meet the seven technical requirements of wheel chair accessibility set by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Act Design Manual.  Defendants have also agreed to have their employees, contractors and agents attend fair housing and accessible design standard training based on the HUD Fair Housing Design Manual and Americans with Disabilities Act.  Defendants will be required to report documentation pertaining to their new construction activities to the plaintiffs for a period of four years.

The main goal of the relief sought in this case is to address the critical shortage of wheel chair accessible rental housing units in the Kankakee County area.  Less than 1,400 rental housing units have been constructed in the county since the accessible design standards became effective in the early 1990s.  With nearly 8,300 physically disabled individuals currently residing in the county, the lack of new multi-family construction and the failure to recognize and comply with the accessible design standards brought to light by this case, practically no accessible multi-family units meeting these federal standards currently exist.

Commenting on this initial settlement in the action, Options CIL Executive Director, Kathy Jackson, stated, “These defendants should be commended for agreeing to do the right thing.  Their prompt resolution of the litigation will speed the process of refitting and building units that are fully accessible for individuals who use wheelchairs.”

All plaintiffs in this action have been represented by Jeffrey L. Taren from the Chicago law firm of Kinoy, Taren & Geraghty.  South Suburban Housing Center’s fair housing enforcement activities are supported by a Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  For additional information contact Kathy Jackson, Options CIL Executive Director at (815) 936-0100 or John Petruszak, SSHC Executive Director, at (708) 957-4674.