Justice Department: County Rejected Group Homes Because Of Residents'
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 7, 2006
TAMPA, FLORIDA--The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against Sarasota County, Florida accusing it of refusing to allow six group homes to operate in a residential neighborhood in Warm Mineral Springs because of the residents' disabilities.
According to a June 30 press statement, the Justice Department claimed that county officials determined that the homes, which would each house up to six people with histories of mental illness and substance abuse, would violate the county's zoning code regarding single-family dwellings. Excluding residents based on their disabilities would violate the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.
The complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, also alleged that the county retaliated against Renaissance Manor Inc., the group homes' operator, since the company filed its own lawsuit against the county. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that both the Justice Department and Scott Eller, executive director of Renaissance Manor, say that the county has withheld over $1 million in grants -- that were previously promised to the company -- since Eller originally sued the county in 2005.
The DOJ suit seeks undisclosed monetary damages to compensate the victims, plus civil penalties and a court order prohibiting future discrimination.
County officials have denied that they are discriminating against people that have disabilities. One county attorney reportedly argued that the cluster of six homes would, in effect, be an unlicensed institution that happens to have six buildings on its grounds.
"Feds sue county over group homes" (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
"Column: In county v. Justice, what is a victory?" (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
"Disability Rights and Resources" (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)