Mississippi Developers Agree to Fair-Housing Settlement

JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – A group of Mississippi housing developers agreed to an overhaul of six multi-family housing complexes that, combined with $350,000 in penalties and compensation to victims, will settle disability-discrimination claims.

In a complaint filed in Mississippi federal court in 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice claimed developers Ike W. Thrash, Dawn Properties Inc., Southern Cross Construction Company Inc. and other affiliated companies built apartment complexes that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Under the settlement, approved late Friday by U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. and announced Monday, the developers will pay $250,000 to 25 individuals harmed by the inaccessible housing and $100,000 in civil penalties.

They also agreed to make substantial retrofits to remove accessibility barriers at the six southern Mississippi complexes, which have nearly 500 covered units, according to the Dec. 2 consent order.

“Barriers created by inaccessible housing and public accommodations deny the fundamental protection afforded by the Fair Housing Act,” U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis said in a news release announcing the settlement.

The Justice Department filed the lawsuit after an independent investigation of a referral of complaints from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Trial was set to begin on Jan. 3, 2017.

Under the settlement, the developers agreed to make disability-accessible adjustments, including eliminating steps; making bathrooms more usable; providing accessible curb ramps and parking; and providing accessible walks to site amenities such as clubhouses, pools and mailboxes.

The changes will affect Beach Club Apartments in Long Beach, Belmont Apartments in Ocean Springs and Hattiesburg, Grand Biscayne Apartments in Biloxi, Lexington Apartments in Ridgeland, and Inn by the Sea Condominiums in Pass Christian.

The developers also agreed to undergo training, ensure that any future construction complies with federal accessibility laws, and make periodic reports to the Justice Department.

“Hopefully today’s action will help developers to better understand the importance of meeting their obligation to comply with the law,” said Gustavo Velasquez, assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status.