CIVIL RIGHTS - On Tuesday, October 11, 2011 sober living homes in Newport Beach heard news they had been longing to hear for many years: the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, weighed in with Amicus Curiae support for housing providers echoing their complaints the City had been violating the Fair Housing Act.
The Department of Justice, along with Housing and Urban Development, is tasked with enforcing provisions of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws specifically provide protection against discriminatory land use ordinances imposed by municipalities that unduly limit housing opportunities for protected classes, including recovering alcoholics and addicts. Until Tuesday, the Federal government had declined to interfere in the Newport Beach controversy over limitations on sober living homes imposed by their Ordinance enacted in 2008.
Specifically, the DOJ asserts Newport Beach intentionally discriminated against a protected class and a lower Court mistakenly believed th at was okay due to a lack of proof non-disabled people were treated differently. Justice clarifies the legal requirements to prove discriminatory intent. They point out the lower court’s misstatement of the proof required for intentional discrimination claims could significantly hamper the ability of both the United States and private litigants to enforce the FHA and ADA.
Many provisions of the Newport Beach ordinance are mirrored in the Community Care Facilities ordinance proposed in Los Angeles. And many of the stated reasons to support the ordinance found to be discriminatory in Newport Beach can be found in the legislative history in Los Angeles.
Evidence demonstrating discriminatory reasons motivated an ordinance is enough to prevail on a claim of intentional discrimination. Los Angeles initially sought only to regulate sober living homes and then broadened the scope to all shared living arrangements in an attempt to evade this FHA protection. Judges are not stupid; they look to the intent of an ordinance.
The time has come for the City of Los Angeles to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to use existing nuisance abatement laws to regulate problem properties of all kinds, regardless of whether the residents happen to be sober. The proposed LA law should be scrapped.
(Paul Dumont is a sober living home owner and a sober housing advocate.) -cw
Tags: Newport Beach, Fair Housing Act, Civil Rights, Department of Justice, Los Angeles, Community Care Facilities
Vol 9 Issue 82
Pub: Oct 14, 2011