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Disability Advocates Pursue Action Against Jacksonville Zoning Restrictions

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

An area zoning ordinance discriminates against those with mental illness, claims a federal lawsuit filed last week by Disability Rights Florida, the state’s  designated protection and advocacy organization for individuals with disabilities. The suit alleges that the City of Jacksonville has erected and enforced zoning restrictions which, in effect, unconstitutionally prevent the integration of individuals with disabilities into the community in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities and Rehabilitation Acts.

The ordinance in question contains an overlay providing development restrictions for the historic neighborhood of Springfield, located to the north of downtown Jacksonville. In 2000, the Jacksonville City Council established the ordinance, in part, to address its own concerns regarding Springfield’s proliferation of rooming houses, group homes and community residential homes. As alleged by Disability Rights Florida’s complaint, however, this zoning overlay has been used both to discourage individuals with disabilities from residing in the neighborhood, as well as to outright deny zoning applications for projects that would otherwise benefit individuals with disabilities. One such example of the city’s discriminatory zoning practices, the complaint explains, involves a grant application submitted by Ability Housing of Northeast Florida to provide permanent supportive housing in an existing 12-unit structure located in Springfield.

The planned supportive housing project, originally approved pending final arrangements, consisted of renovating the existing structure and offering the twelve individual units for rent to individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Notably, the project specified that staff would not reside on premises and resident treatment would similarly occur off-site. Initially, it seemed, city representatives did not take issue with the project’s zoning or characterization, noting that Ability Housing’s plans were consistent – or at least permissible – within current land use regulations and applicable zoning designations.

Things changed, however, following a community meeting last April at which time Springfield residents voiced concerns over the belief that social service housing projects amounted to a neighborhood eyesore. Residents submitted a formal “Request for Written Interpretation” to the city’s Housing Authority, asking it to review the zoning plans for the project. The next month, the city reclassified the project as a prohibited “special use”, and a Certificate of Use for the project was denied this July and upheld on appeal at an October City Council meeting.

After its letter to the Mayor’s office yielded an unsatisfactory response, Disability Rights Florida filed suit for injunctive relief. Molly Paris, an attorney at Disability Rights Florida, explained, “Housing is a fundamental right for everyone. Jacksonville’s resistance to fair and equal zoning laws gave us little choice but to pursue this litigation on behalf of individuals with disabilities. It is our hope that we can work together with the city in the coming weeks and months to equitably resolve the situation.”

Tags for this Post

americans with disabilities act, housing, mental illness,

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