The City of Peoria is being sued for the way it enforces its chronic nuisance ordinance. The lawsuit, filed in US District Court, alleges the city violates the Fair Housing Act.
Chiefly, it asserts the city discriminates against African-Americans and victims of domestic violence when it requires landlords to evict tenants after the property has multiple police calls.
HOPE Fair Housing Center filed the suit Thurs. The Fair Housing Center is represented by Relman, Dane & Colfax as well as the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.
Kate Walz is the Director of Housing Justice at the law center. She says HOPE’s lawsuit is based on “extensive investigation,” that found the city is enforcing the ordinance disproportionately against black people and black neighborhoods.
“It was not only that landlords were told, you must abate the nuisance, which was to evict. But they were encouraged not to pursue legal means to evict the tenant, to essentially lock them out or get them out of the housing.” Walz says that leaves no due process for the tenants.
HOPE says its investigation concluded that African-American residents regularly face eviction for conduct that does not result in eviction for white residents —- perpetuating Peoria’s long-standing residential segregation. The organization is requesting City modify its enforcement of the nuisance ordinance to be nondiscriminatory.
Walz says the city’s enforcement of the ordinance in some cases also impacts crime victims, “they were individuals who had actually even called the police for assistance. And rather than the city help them they threatened their very housing and their ability to reside in Peoria free from discrimination.”
The lawsuit says HOPE shared their research findings on the nuisance abatement ordinance with the city. It says: “once made aware of the nuisance ordinance and the possibility of its enforcement, victims become reluctant to call the police or otherwise use public services, thereby putting them at grave risk.” It also says even though the city is, “aware the ordinance is having this effect and persists in enforcing it.”
The suit seeks injunctive relief and damages entitled under civil rights law. Walz says they also hope to, “send a message to other local governments that there are better and more lawful means to address public safety.”
Peoria is apparently not alone in the way it’s enforcing its nuisance abatement ordinance. Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a similar suit against Maplewood, Missouri earlier this year.