CHICAGO (CN) – The United States sued Joliet to stop it from destroying a federally subsidized low-income housing complex that houses most of the city’s poor people: 730 of the residents are black and Joliet has no plans to find new places for them. City officials have called the housing a “cancer” and a “tumor” and its residents “rats.”
Prosecutors say Joliet’s plans to seize Evergreen Terrace through eminent domain, and destroy it, “were taken because of the race or color and of the current and prospective tenants of Evergreen Terrace. The purpose and effect of the City’s actions and proposed actions are to limit or reduce the number of Black or African-American residents residing within the City of Joliet. Such actions, if carried out, would have a disproportionate adverse impact on African-Americans and operate to perpetuate segregation in Joliet.”
The 356-unit federally subsidized apartment complex houses 764 residents, 95.6 percent of whom are black.
Evergreen Terrace houses the majority of Joliet’s low-income residents, and the city has no plan to relocate residents to affordable housing elsewhere, prosecutors say.
A study that found 790 vacant housing units within a 15-mile radius showed “only five landlords with a total of 39 vacant units who would agree to accept Section 8 voucher holders as tenants,” the complaint states.
“Evergreen Terrace represents a significant portion of the housing affordable to persons with low incomes available in the City, and the City has no meaningful plan to provide such affordable housing on a similar scale elsewhere in the City. If successful, the City’s actions will force hundreds of African-American families out of their housing, leaving many with nowhere in the City to live. The City’s actions have the purpose and effect of discriminating in housing on the basis of race in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Housing and Community Development Act,” according to the complaint.
Prosecutors say Joliet officials have been bashing the apartment complex since 1978.
For instance, according to the complaint:
In 1991, Joliet Councilman Tim Brophy called Evergreen Terrace a “cancer on the civic body of Joliet”;
During discussions with HUD, apparently in 2002, Brophy “referred to Evergreen Terrace residents as ‘rats’ and ‘rats from Robert Taylor Homes’ and indicated that Joliet should follow Mayor Daley’s lead and get rid of the ‘rats’ by removing Evergreen Terrace”;
Mayor Arthur Schultz sent a letter to HUD in 2002 requesting that it “not renew the federally subsidized program at Evergreen Terrace,” calling it “blight to Joliet’s near west side.”
But a 2003 survey showed “the rental market had not maintained pace with growth in population and employment in Joliet and that the need for affordable housing was strong,” the complaint states.
In response, the City came up with “Program of Choice” that relied on Section 8 vouchers, public housing and home ownership programs. But due to the lack of Section 8 housing, HUD concluded that “relying on vouchers would not ensure that the majority of Evergreen Terrace residents could be relocated in or near the City of Joliet” and rejected the city’s plan.
The complaint adds: “According to City Council meeting minutes from October 6, 2009, Joliet Councilman Brophy stated that ‘unarmed security at Evergreen Terrace is like having a little yellow duck watch a pack of wolves.’ He further noted that ‘he would hope that we revitalize our efforts and our thoughts about this tumor that is a cancer on the City of Joliet.”
Prosecutors say that major improvements have been made to Evergreen Terrace, but Joliet plans to condemn without a realistic plan to relocate its overwhelmingly black residents.
Uncle Sam wants Joliet enjoined from condemning the place, from “interfering with or threatening to take any action against any person in the exercise or enjoyment of rights granted or protected by the Fair Housing Act,” from racially discriminating in housing, land use or zoning, and it wants it ordered “to take such affirmative steps as may be necessary to prevent the recurrence of any discriminatory conduct in the future and to eliminate, to the extent practicable, the effects of the City’s unlawful practices.”