Fridley Tenants and City Settle Discrimination and Relocation Claims For $400,000

Tenants in a complex in Fridley, MN, slated for demolition to make way for new housing have settled their claims under the Fair Housing Act, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and laws on relocation benefits.

Tenants alleged that their buildings were targeted for demolition because of their race, familial status, and receipt of public assistance. After weeks of intensive negotiations between the Sylvan Oaks Tenants Association (SOTA), the City of Fridley, HRA officials, and their attorneys, a settlement was reached in June. Under the terms of the settlement, the City and HRA deny any liability or intent to discriminate against SOTA members, but have paid approximately $400,000 in relocation payments and atto rneys fees and have agreed to enact a fair housing ordinance for the City. The City also agreed not to require any local residency preference for subsidized housing in Fridley, and to amend the City's housing plan to take into account the needs of low-i ncome tenants.

Glenn D. Oliver, lead attorney for the case with the Housing Discrimination Law Project said: "The thirty plus clients we represent now have the means to make real choices about where they want to live. Some of them are now building homes in Fridley, wh ile others have chosen to relocate in areas outside of Fridley. At the same time, we believe that the City of Fridley and its HRA in Fridley understand that they cannot undertake redevelopment policies without considering the needs of the displaced famil ies."
Oliver pointed out that SOTA's complaint, which was never filed in Court, hinged on two factors. One, there were statements by public officials which indicated that condemning SOTA members' apartment buildings and redeveloping the area (using tax increm ent financing) was intended to displace the tenants because of their socio-economic status. (Half were people of color, half receive public assistance of some form and two thirds of the households contained families with children, all protected classific ations under Federal and/or State anti-discrimination law.)

Secondly the proposed demolition of the apartment buildings would have forced many families of color to relocate outside the City of Fridley and reduced the overall availability of low income housing in Fridley. SOTA stated, based on an Urban Coalition analysis of census data, that the project would displace 5% of Fridley's people of color. The demolition of the apartment buildings without adequate relocation assistance was bound to further segregate the population of Fridley, by forcing people of col or and other protected class persons out of the City.

The tenants were represented by the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis Housing Discrimination Law Project, Dorsey & Whitney, and other private attorneys. Thomas J. White, a volunteer attorney from the law firm of Klein & White, who worked on the case, cit ed the unity of the SOTA residents, assistance of volunteer attorneys and the willingness of Fridley public officials to come to the table for serious negotiations as reasons for the relatively quick resolution of the dispute.