Lawsuit Alleging Decades of Housing Discrimination Against Disabled People in Chicago Can Proceed


April 2, 2019 | by Bridget Hayman

Judge Denies City’s Motion to Dismiss


Bridget Hayman

Director of Communications

(312) 640-2129

CHICAGO – Following a federal judge’s ruling on Friday, March 29, the City of Chicago will be required to defend a lawsuit alleging that it funded and developed tens of thousands of affordable rental housing units without ensuring they are accessible to people with disabilities, as required by federal law.

The suit—brought by Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago in May 2018 and addressing deficiencies stretching back 30 years and affecting more than 50,000 affordable apartments in 650 complexes—alleges that, because of the City’s violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws, “low-income people with disabilities struggle to find suitable housing and are often forced to live on the street, in their cars, in nursing homes, in homeless shelters, or in other inadequate and dangerous housing.”

In his decision on Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr. rejected each of the City’s attempts to dismiss the case, finding that Access Living had adequately described how the City’s failures had injured its ability to advocate for its clients and how the City had the power to require the owners of hundreds of rental complexes to comply with federal accessibility laws. He also determined that Access Living’s “detailed, well- organized 44-page complaint easily satisfies” the requirement to describe the extent of the City’s failings, and adequately describes how “the City’s practices constitute a continuing violation” over more than 30 years.

Since 2004, Access Living has received approximately 50,000 inquiries from consumers in search of affordable, accessible housing. Typical stories include a woman with a mobility disability who had to climb 25 stairs because she could not afford to live somewhere else, a man forced to live in a nursing home for decades because he could not find affordable housing with wide-enough doors for his wheelchair, a woman who uses a wheelchair forced to call the fire department if she needed to leave her second- floor unit, and a woman with lupus who was homeless and finally had to move into an inaccessible apartment with stairs in order to retain her rental voucher.

“We’re pleased with the decision, which clears the way for comprehensive discovery into the City’s failure to address the critical need for affordable, accessible housing in Chicago,” said Ken Walden, Managing Attorney of Access Living.

“Like other big cities around the country, it appears that Chicago has—for decades— lacked oversight mechanisms to ensure that City-funded affordable housing is built and operated to be accessible to people with disabilities. We look forward to remedying that through this litigation,” said Laura Arandes, of the civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, which represents Access Living in the case.

Established in 1980, Access Living is a change agent committed to fostering an inclusive society that enables Chicagoans with disabilities to live fully–engaged and self–directed lives. Nationally recognized as a leading force in the disability advocacy community, Access Living challenges stereotypes, protects civil rights and champions social reform.

Relman, Dane & Colfax is a national civil rights law firm, with a litigation practice focused on combating housing discrimination. Its practice includes individual and class action lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs who have experienced discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, national origin, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, age, familial status, and source of income. It represented three nonprofit agencies in recent housing accessibility litigation against the City of Los Angeles: