Despite federal antidiscrimination laws, applicants were denied placement to a facility providing low income senior rental housing that includes on-site services due to their “mental health” issues.
Eden Supportive Living offers rental housing with supportive services. The cost of the housing varies by unit, and a portion is set aside for lower income residents because it was partially funded through the federal/state Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC). In addition, personal care and supportive services are provided through the state’s Home and Community Based Supported Housing Medicaid waiver. The named plaintiff alleges that she applied for residency but was rejected solely because Eden refused housing to any applicant with a “mental health” issue, a policy that Eden’s policy applies regardless of applicant’s rental history or professional screening for safety risks. Trained testers from Hope Fair Housing Center, plaintiff in the suit, subsequently documented numerous incidents of repeated, consistent and blatant discrimination based on mental health status.
O’Connor first applied to Eden in late 2012 after being hospitalized for a heart condition. At the time of her discharge, the hospital social worker recommended that she move to assisted living because she needed help with some activities of daily living. After research, O’Connor found only three residences could provide her the support she needed, with Eden the only location that worked for her. During her first call, she was cut off after disclosing she had a mental health disorder – the representative, O’Connor alleges, told her that Eden did not accept people with “that disability.” She tried again, to no avail, and was homeless for a time. She has now found housing with a local public housing authority, but does not receive the level of services she needs and that Eden would have provided
Eden argues that it relies on Ill. Medicaid waiver rules that prohibit the use of waiver funds for those with severe and persistent mental illness. Those rules might comply with federal fair housing and Medicaid law if applied to permit residency by those who are otherwise qualified for the services. Without this clarification and proper implementation of its supported housing program, the State and its individual providers are in violation of the fair housing law.
AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys are representing the plaintiffs, along with Hope Fair Housing Center of Wheaten, IL and the private law firm of Soule, Bradtke & Lambert. Three federal anti-discrimination laws (the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act) clearly prohibit discrimination on the basis of mental disability in housing, and case law is well established in this area.
What’s at Stake
At least 13 million households headed by people age 50 or older struggle with unaffordable and/or inadequate housing. The protections in the federal FHA, ADA and Rehab Act were enacted after much debate, consideration, and carefully-crafted compromises. If housing providers can deny housing without reason to someone with a mental health diagnosis and relegate her to homelessness or a nursing home, then the antidiscrimination goals of these key federal civil rights laws will be thwarted.
O’Connor v. Eden is before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.