Blog Archive

Blog Archive : January 2015

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jan 22, 2015

City Agrees to New Policy Towards Homeless People’s Personal Property Rights

A new Chicago policy governing the treatment of homeless people and their personal possessions is going into effect.  The policy is the successful result of legal work performed by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLC), working with and for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and by pro bono volunteer attorneys Matt Piers and Claudia Flores from CLC member  firm Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, Ltd.

Until recently, homeless people in the Lower Wacker Drive area of downtown Chicago have been subject to sweeps by the Chicago Police Department and Streets and Sanitation workers.  The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless began work on the problem in 2013 after hearing repeated reports from homeless individuals that they were losing important possessions when they were rousted by police and Streets and Sanitation workers.  Dozens of homeless people described being told to move and could only take those things they could carry at the time; whatever they couldn’t carry got thrown in a garbage truck and destroyed.  People lost the basic things they need to survive out of doors – coats, blankets, boots, and clothing – as well as personal items like identification papers and prescription medication. 

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless sought help from  the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for help and CLC, in turn, recruited pro bono attorneys from Hughes, Socol.  Together, they prepared a draft complaint, which they shared with City attorneys to see if the case could be resolved without litigation.  Seventeen individual homeless people whose personal possessions were taken were listed as potential named plaintiffs. 

After extended discussions, an agreement was reached on January 9, 2015, that commits the City to limit the seizure and destruction of homeless people’s personal property. 

Under the agreement, homeless people in the Lower Wacker Drive area will be given advance notice before the City comes in to clean their area.  The new City policy states “Unless the homeless individuals encountered during the cleanings are trespassing or obstructing the public way, the City will not force them to move from their location.  Individuals may keep in their possession, without disturbance, a sleeping bag or bedroll, up to five blankets, boots or shoes, and up to three bags or suitcases full of possessions.  In an important provision, the City agrees that the homeless person does not have to be personally present to claim and protect his (or her) property – a friend on the spot can preserve it. Furthermore, unattended personal property will no longer be immediately thrown away, but will be tagged with a warning and not discarded unless it is still unattended the following week.

In addition, the City agrees to provide intensive case management to the seventeen claimants in the coming year in accessing social support services as drug and alcohol treatment, job training, and access to long-term housing.  The new policy also provides that contact with homeless people during street cleaning will be led by the City’s Department of Family Support Services, which will provide information about shelter, housing programs, and supportive services. 

The City’s new policy also applies to homeless persons in the Wilson Avenue viaduct area, and may be extended to other areas in the future.

The bargaining position of the representatives for the homeless was strengthened by a relatively new Illinois law, the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act.  That law provides that a person experiencing homelessness has “the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.”

For further information call Paul Strauss, Co-Director of Litigation at the Lawyers’ Committee, (312) 202-3649 or send an e-mail to him at pstrauss@clccrul.org.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jan 21, 2015

CLC Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold Important Legal Theory Against Housing Discrimination

January 21, 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in the important case Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (No. 13-1371).  The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLC) strongly advocates that the Court retain the well-established disparate impact, or discriminatory effects, legal theory to root out our city and country’s still entrenched racial and ethnic segregated living patterns.  CLC Fair Housing Project Director Betsy Shuman-Moore has been part of a national team that filed an amicus brief in the case, stressing the great harms of residential segregation, the benefits of integration, and the continued need for the disparate impact theory to challenge actions and policies that create or perpetuate segregation.  The amicus brief is here.  CLC’s previous statement about the issue is here.  Contact Betsy Shuman-Moore at 312-630-9744 or bshuman-moore@clccrul.org for further information.

Below is a more detailed explanation about the case from the National Fair Housing Alliance of which CLC is a member.  http://www.nationalfairhousing.org/Portals/33/FairHousingMediaKit.pdf

What is this case about?

The Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Fair Housing Act in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. will test our nation’s commitment to equal treatment under the law and will determine whether equal opportunity in housing continues to be one of our most cherished values.

The case focuses on Dallas, Texas, where the State of Texas approved the construction of affordable housing along racial lines. Over a period of years, a Texas housing agency reinforced residential segregation by consistently approving affordable housing in African American neighborhoods instead of fairly distributing that housing across all communities to promote integration.

Why is this case important?

Recent events in Ferguson and beyond demonstrate that our nation is at a pivotal time for racial justice. The decision in this case will not only profoundly impact the housing choices of millions of Americans of all backgrounds but it will also shape the fabric of the neighborhoods and communities in which we live for decades to come.

A full and effective Fair Housing Act is essential to ensure that every American has equal access to housing and is free from housing discrimination. When persons are denied equal access to housing, it reduces the availability of good jobs, quality education, safe streets, and a clean and healthy environment, all of which are central to the American Dream.

A decision in favor of the State of Texas in this case would eliminate a key protection under the Fair Housing Act and could re-open the door to housing policies and practices that exclude people based on their race, color, national origin, gender, religion, disability or familial status.

What is disparate impact and why am I hearing about it in this case?

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold a central legal protection under the Fair Housing Act which has been used for over four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing and has been unanimously endorsed by our nation's appellate courts. That protection, often referred to as the “disparate impact” standard, ensures that banks, landlords, and other housing providers use policies that apply fairly to all persons. Some policies that seem neutral in theory can exclude or segregate particular communities in practice. This protection under the Fair Housing Act allows us to recognize and prevent harmful and inequitable policies so that everyone is treated fairly. If the Supreme Court were to eliminate this protection, the following could happen:

  • An apartment complex could exclude applicants without full-time jobs. This bars people like disabled veterans or seniors who do not work full-time but can still afford an apartment.
  • A bank could charge an exorbitant deposit fee for those who seek home mortgage loans. With this high barrier, older Americans, veterans or persons of color with limited means would be forced to take on more risky and costly loans or not have access to financing at all.
  • An apartment building could restrict occupancy to one person per bedroom. Families with children would be barred from renting or would be forced to rent more costly multi-bedroom apartments.

What is the question in this case?

The Supreme Court is considering whether this key legal protection – that prohibits housing providers from using discriminatory policies when other options exist – will remain available to victims of housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act protects Americans from discrimination in housing and the inequality that results from segregation. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

The Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it continues to enjoy support from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle. It is a key part of Dr. King’s civil rights legacy and remains one of the most crucial pieces of civil rights legislation for advancing racial equality in our history.

What is the history of this legal protection now being challenged?

There are 45 years of legal precedent – including rulings by 11 different appellate courts across the country – upholding this specific protection under the Fair Housing Act. When Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. was considered in the lower courts, both the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit relied on the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act.

Originally adopted by the Nixon Administration as an enforcement tool, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have relied on the disparate impact standard over the last four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing.

Who is against longstanding fair housing protections?

The companies trying to dismantle the Fair Housing Act are some of the big banks and insurers that brought our economy to the brink of collapse just a few years ago, due largely to unlawful abuses and discrimination. The vested financial interest of these big corporations in removing common sense protections for Americans should not trump the national interest or the values of equal opportunity.

Recent Polling/Relevant Statistics

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 3 million instances of housing discrimination occur each year. Many more instances are unreported.

The degree of residential segregation across our nation is staggering. According to U.S. Census estimates, 75% of African American families nationwide reside in just 16% of the Census tracts. According to the most recent Census, “[d]espite [some] declines, residential segregation was still higher for African Americans than for the other groups across all measures.” Segregation levels among Latinos and Asian Americans have remained constant since 1980, with these communities residing in even more isolated and homogeneous enclaves now than they did in 2000, continuing a trend visible since 1980.