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Clara Kent posted a blog on Oct 14, 2015

SOURCE OF INCOME AND RACE INVESTIGATION REVEALS CONTINUED DISCRIMINATION IN SUBURBAN COOK COUNTY

Chicago, IL (Oct. 13, 2015) – A recent investigation conducted by several Chicago fair housing organizations revealed that despite passage of  Cook County’s Source of Income amendment two years ago, housing providers are still illegally refusing to rent to tenants and treating them differently because of their Housing Choice Vouchers. 

The Fair Housing Project of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (CLCCRUL), in association with partners HOPE Fair Housing Center, Open Communities, and South Suburban Housing Center, conducted a fair housing investigation in suburban Cook County to study how housing providers are treating African-American and Caucasian voucher holders. The investigation found that discrimination against tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers, particularly African-Americans, continues to be widespread in suburban Cook County. 

Click here to view the report . 

For more information Contact: Betsy Shuman-Moore, Fair Housing Project Director

(312) 630-9744 ▪ 312-202-3658  or BShuman-Moore@clccrul.org

Clara Kent posted a blog on Oct 14, 2015

SOURCE OF INCOME AND RACE INVESTIGATION REVEALS CONTINUED DISCRIMINATION IN SUBURBAN COOK COUNTY

Chicago, IL (Oct. 13, 2015) – A recent investigation conducted by several Chicago fair housing organizations revealed that despite passage of  Cook County’s Source of Income amendment two years ago, housing providers are still illegally refusing to rent to tenants and treating them differently because of their Housing Choice Vouchers. 

The Fair Housing Project of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (CLCCRUL), in association with partners HOPE Fair Housing Center, Open Communities, and South Suburban Housing Center, conducted a fair housing investigation in suburban Cook County to study how housing providers are treating African-American and Caucasian voucher holders. The investigation found that discrimination against tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers, particularly African-Americans, continues to be widespread in suburban Cook County. 

Click here to download the report .

For more information Contact: Betsy Shuman-Moore, Fair Housing Project Director 

(312) 630-9744 ▪ 312-202-3658  or BShuman-Moore@clccrul.org 

Clara Kent posted a blog on Aug 18, 2015

CLCCRUL Mourns the Passing of a Legendary Civil Rights Activist

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee joins the nation in mourning the passing of legendary civil rights activist, Julian Bond. Mr. Bond was a visionary and tireless champion for civil and human rights. He spent his lifetime in public service calling for equal civil and human rights, not only for African Americans, but for every American. We extend our thoughts and prayers to his family. CLCCRUL will continue to be immensely inspired by the legacy of Mr. Bond in our work for social justice and equality.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jul 13, 2015

CLCCRUL Files Suit Against Wisconsin State Election Officials

Last Wednesday the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil rights Under Law filed suit on behalf of Wisconsin plaintiffs suing state election officials over the state assembly district plan that Republicans drew in 2011. The legal team also includes Michele Odorizzi of Mayer Brown in Chicago, sole practitioner Peter G. Earle from Milwaukee, and University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, who co-created the "efficiency gap metric" at the heart of the suit's Constitutional argument. The lawsuit, Whitford v. Nichols, argues that the current map is one of the “worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history,” claiming that it has given Republicans a firm grip on the Legislature.

The complaint also states that, “this kind of partisan gerrymandering is both unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic. It is unconstitutional because it treats voters unequally, diluting their voting power based on their political beliefs, in violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and because it unreasonably burdens their First Amendment rights of association and free speech.”

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ Executive Director Jay Readey said of the lawsuit, “We are pleased to partner with a number of experienced attorneys to help not only the people of Wisconsin to have a fairer redistricting plan, but to potentially change redistricting plans across the country.  Extreme partisan gerrymandering is contrary to core democratic values and can make it harder to enact pro-civil rights laws and policies, even if they are supported by a majority of the voters.  We hope that through this lawsuit we will give power back to the people, so that they can choose their legislators, not the other way around.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled overly partisan maps can be unconstitutional, but has not determined a standard for unconstitutionality. This lawsuit proposes a standard based on the “efficiency gap” metric. If the lawsuit is successful, a limit will be set on extreme partisan gerrymandering across the country for the first time.

Partisan gerrymandering is achieved by "cracking" and "packing" districts. Cracking districts involves breaking up voters of one party across multiple districts so they don't have a majority of votes in the districts. Packing districts amounts to stuffing large number of like-minded voters into a small number of districts. In both cases, those districts produce large numbers of so-called "wasted" votes — that is, votes cast for losing candidates and votes cast in excess of those needed to elect a candidate. Using those wasted votes to calculate a redistricting plan’s “efficiency gap” allows the courts to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering.

Using the efficiency gap metric, the lawsuit alleges that the Assembly district plan gave Republicans an efficiency gap of 13% in 2012 and 10% in 2014, making it one of the most partisan in American history.

The ACLU of Wisconsin issued a comment on the filing on July 8. Executive director Chris Ahmuty, in a news release, said, “When 53 percent of citizens vote for one party, but that party gets 39 percent of the legislative seats, something is askew. Past redistricting practices and tactics have resulted in unequal voting power among citizens, providing unfair representation for communities of color and fragmentation of communities of interest. No plan is insulated entirely from partisan bias, but elected officials and the courts have an obligation to ensure that the public good is not sacrificed to the self-interest of political parties. Such practices alienate voters and weaken democracy.”

For inquiries, please contact staff attorney Ruth Greenwood at rgreenwood@clccrul.org or (312) 888-4194. 

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jul 9, 2015

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Applauds New Fair Housing Rule

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued an important new fair housing regulation aimed at promoting diverse, inclusive communities and overcoming the negative effects of segregation. The regulation is designed to guide cities and counties in complying with their obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing,” a key provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The regulation requires state and local governments and housing authorities to work to eliminate fair housing barriers for people of color, families with children and people with disabilities. 

Although our nation made some progress, we remain a highly segregated society. Chicago is still extremely segregated, by both race and income. Segregation can be detrimental; where you live has a large impact on how your life unfolds. It determines the schools your children attend, the jobs you have access to, the quality of your surroundings, your access to transportation, grocery stores, and other important community resources. Children who grow up in racially concentrated areas of poverty that lack these resources can have negative prospects, which hurt the growth and prosperity of Chicago.

HUD’s  new “affirmatively furthering fair housing” rule will help all jurisdictions in Illinois be more deliberate and strategic about how they use their housing and community development resources to expand access to opportunity for all Chicago area residents.  Through legal representation, education, and advocacy, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee’s Fair Housing Project works to eliminate housing discrimination and promote fair and equal housing in the Chicago metropolitan area. We look forward to working to ensure that all people – regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, family status or disability – can chose where to live, and all neighborhoods are good places to live. 

Contact: Betsy Shuman-Moore | (312) 630-9744 | BShuman-Moore@clccrul.org

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jul 1, 2015

CLCCRUL Praises U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision Upholding Important Legal Theory against Housing Discrimination

 June 25, 2015 – The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights enthusiastically applauds the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the disparate impact theory under the federal Fair Housing Act in the case Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project.  The decision reinforces that the Act makes illegal not only policies and practices intended to discriminate, but also policies and practices that are neutral on their faces but have discriminatory effects, or a disparate impact.  As Justice Kennedy said in the majority opinion, “Much progress remains to be made in our Nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation,” and “The Court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.”  Click Here for the opinion

This decision was supported by 40 years of legal precedent and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s authoritative 2013 regulation.  The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLCCRUL) strongly advocated that the Court retain and affirm the legal theory to root out our city and country’s still entrenched racial and ethnic segregated living patterns. 

CLCCRUL Fair Housing Project Director Betsy Shuman-Moore was part of a national team that filed an amicus brief in the case stressing the great harms of residential segregation, the benefits of integration, and the continued need for the disparate impact theory to challenge actions and policies that create or perpetuate segregation.  We are proud to have played a role in supporting this major victory for equal opportunity in housing. The amicus brief is here.  CLC’s previous statement about the issue is here.  Contact Betsy Shuman-Moore at 312-630-9744 or bshuman-moore@clccrul.org for further information.

Below is a more detailed explanation about the case from the National Fair Housing Alliance:

What is this case about?

The Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Fair Housing Act in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. will test our nation’s commitment to equal treatment under the law and will determine whether equal opportunity in housing continues to be one of our most cherished values.

The case focuses on Dallas, Texas, where the State of Texas approved the construction of affordable housing along racial lines. Over a period of years, a Texas housing agency reinforced residential segregation by consistently approving affordable housing in African American neighborhoods instead of fairly distributing that housing across all communities to promote integration.

Why is this case important?

Recent events in Ferguson and beyond demonstrate that our nation is at a pivotal time for racial justice. The decision in this case will not only profoundly impact the housing choices of millions of Americans of all backgrounds but it will also shape the fabric of the neighborhoods and communities in which we live for decades to come.

A full and effective Fair Housing Act is essential to ensure that every American has equal access to housing and is free from housing discrimination. When persons are denied equal access to housing, it reduces the availability of good jobs, quality education, safe streets, and a clean and healthy environment, all of which are central to the American Dream.

A decision in favor of the State of Texas in this case would eliminate a key protection under the Fair Housing Act and could re-open the door to housing policies and practices that exclude people based on their race, color, national origin, gender, religion, disability or familial status.

What is disparate impact and why am I hearing about it in this case?

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold a central legal protection under the Fair Housing Act which has been used for over four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing and has been unanimously endorsed by our nation's appellate courts. That protection, often referred to as the “disparate impact” standard, ensures that banks, landlords, and other housing providers use policies that apply fairly to all persons. Some policies that seem neutral in theory can exclude or segregate particular communities in practice. This protection under the Fair Housing Act allows us to recognize and prevent harmful and inequitable policies so that everyone is treated fairly. If the Supreme Court were to eliminate this protection, the following could happen:

  • An apartment complex could exclude applicants without full-time jobs. This bars people like disabled veterans or seniors who do not work full-time but can still afford an apartment.
  • A bank could charge an exorbitant deposit fee for those who seek home mortgage loans. With this high barrier, older Americans, veterans or persons of color with limited means would be forced to take on more risky and costly loans or not have access to financing at all.
  • An apartment building could restrict occupancy to one person per bedroom. Families with children would be barred from renting or would be forced to rent more costly multi-bedroom apartments.

What is the question in this case?

The Supreme Court is considering whether this key legal protection – that prohibits housing providers from using discriminatory policies when other options exist – will remain available to victims of housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act protects Americans from discrimination in housing and the inequality that results from segregation. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

The Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it continues to enjoy support from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle. It is a key part of Dr. King’s civil rights legacy and remains one of the most crucial pieces of civil rights legislation for advancing racial equality in our history.

What is the history of this legal protection now being challenged?

There are 45 years of legal precedent – including rulings by 11 different appellate courts across the country – upholding this specific protection under the Fair Housing Act. When Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. was considered in the lower courts, both the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit relied on the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act.

Originally adopted by the Nixon Administration as an enforcement tool, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have relied on the disparate impact standard over the last four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing.

Who is against longstanding fair housing protections?

The companies trying to dismantle the Fair Housing Act are some of the big banks and insurers that brought our economy to the brink of collapse just a few years ago, due largely to unlawful abuses and discrimination. The vested financial interest of these big corporations in removing common sense protections for Americans should not trump the national interest or the values of equal opportunity.

Recent Polling/Relevant Statistics

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 3 million instances of housing discrimination occur each year. Many more instances are unreported.

The degree of residential segregation across our nation is staggering. According to U.S. Census estimates, 75% of African American families nationwide reside in just 16% of the Census tracts. According to the most recent Census, “[d]espite [some] declines, residential segregation was still higher for African Americans than for the other groups across all measures.” Segregation levels among Latinos and Asian Americans have remained constant since 1980, with these communities residing in even more isolated and homogeneous enclaves now than they did in 2000, continuing a trend visible since 1980.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jun 9, 2015

Join our Fair Housing Project!

We are looking for a full-time National Volunteer Service position with AmeriCorps to start in August, that includes a monthly stipend and some other benefits. The VISTA will work on outreach and media for our fair housing project. For more information on the position and to apply CLICK HERE.

Clara Kent posted a blog on May 28, 2015

CLCCRUL Settles Federal Disability Discrimination Lawsuit against Edgewater Condominium Association

Chicago, IL,  May 28, 2015 – The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., in partnership with Reed Smith LLP, settled a federal fair housing discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Kimberly Katz and Kenneth Payne against Kane Property Management Corporation, Brandon Shores Condominium Association, and Marilynn Wharton.

Plaintiff Kimberly Katz has osteoarthritis, an ACL tear, a torn meniscus in her right knee, and neuropathic pain syndrome, which makes it difficult for her to maneuver in tight spaces. As a result, Ms. Katz requires a handicap accessible parking spot so that she can safely enter and exit her car and walk to her home in the Brandon Shores Condominium Building.

The lawsuit alleged that, even though Ms. Katz is disabled and unable to use her deeded parking spot because it is flanked by a cement wall on one side and a tall gate on the other, the defendants refused to provide her a reasonable accommodation after multiple requests for an accessible parking spot.  Also, when Ms. Katz attempted to make private agreements to obtain an accessible parking spot on her own, the defendants actively interfered with her efforts. The lawsuit alleged that Brandon Shores Condominium Association’s President, Marilyn Wharton would monitor the parking lot and refuse to allow Ms. Katz to use another tenant’s parking space, even though Ms. Katz had made an oral agreement with this tenant to park in the space.

The lawsuit further alleged that the defendants intentionally and willfully refused to reasonably accommodate Ms. Katz’s handicap and thus, denying  her equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. Without a handicap accessible parking space, Ms. Katz had extreme difficulty getting from her car to her condo. She suffered physical and emotional injuries. Ms. Katz’s rights to fair housing were violated as she had been deprived of the ability to use and enjoy her dwelling in the same manner as non-handicapped individuals.

“We are pleased with the terms of the settlement which provides a designated handicapped parking space for Ms. Katz and any other disabled persons, as well as monetary damages in the amount of $38,000.00," states Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Fair Housing attorney, Danielle McCain.  The defendants are also required require to attend fair housing training and adopt new rules to govern how they respond to reasonable accommodation requests.

Kimberly Katz and Kenneth Payne were represented by Reed Smith’s pro bono attorneys, Casey L. Westover and Jillian L. Burstein, as well as Danielle McCain and Jessica Schneider, staff attorneys for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee.

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The focus of Reed Smith’s pro bono work is on aiding people of limited means, assisting charities with their legal needs, and championing important legal and human rights. Reed Smith’s pro bono work has received much acclaim and recognition for its services to the underprivileged.

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. protects and promotes civil rights by bringing the strength and prestige of the private bar to bear on the problems of poverty and discrimination. The Committee champions equal justice and community development for underrepresented people by partnering with volunteer lawyers to provide litigation and transactional representation. The Fair Housing Project works to eliminate housing discrimination and promote fair and equal housing in the Chicago metropolitan area through legal representation, education, and advocacy. For more information, visit www.clccrul.org .

Clara Kent posted a blog on May 19, 2015

Join our Fair Housing Project!

We are looking for a full-time National Volunteer Service position with AmeriCorps to start in August, that includes a monthly stipend and some other benefits. The VISTA will work on outreach and media for our fair housing project. For more information on the position and to apply CLICK HERE.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Apr 20, 2015

Landmark Report Finds People of Color in Illinois Significantly Underrepresented in Local Government

A first-of-its-kind report in Illinois has uncovered widespread underrepresentation of communities of color in local government jurisdictions, including 13 that could potentially face litigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The report released today provides a detailed look at which counties, municipalities and school districts under represent minority citizens, and the potential consequences when governing bodies are not nearly as diverse as the populations they serve. The study goes on to recommend election system remedies better suited for Illinois’ increasingly diverse communities.

“This study makes it clear as day that voting rights need to be protected in northern as well as southern states and that minority underrepresentation is a contemporary problem that needs contemporary solutions,”said Jay Readey, Executive Director of Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., which co-authored the report.

“Selma may have been 50 years ago, but people of color are still not equitably represented in local government and the solutions we currently use to address underrepresentation are no longer suitable,” Readey said.

The report found that the vast majority (85%) of the 237 Illinois municipalities, county governments and school districts studied under represent people of color in relation to their percentage of population. And 38 jurisdictions have what the report termed “severe underrepresentation,” with a sufficiently large minority population that, if voting cohesively and using an appropriate election system, could elect at least one additional candidate of its choice.

Joining the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee in developing the report were the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago. The report was funded by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, which invests in policy solutions to economic and social challenges that affect quality of life, community vitality and social equity.

The report studied demographics of communities and representative bodies for counties, cities and school boards with significant minority populations. A full list of the jurisdictions examined can be found at www.colorofrepresentation.org.

"This report sheds light on a serious problem in Illinois and offers solutions to strengthen our communities' representation,” said Jorge Sanchez, Senior Litigator with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Underrepresentation in local government can significantly affect decisions on matters such as how public resources are distributed and how many people of color are hired as public employees. These decisions have a direct impact on citizens’ lives, affecting everything from public education funding patterns to criminal justice to housing policy.”

“We are especially pleased at the modern perspective this report takes to voting rights that moves beyond drawing districts and instead explores innovative solutions that wastes less votes and allows smaller communities to have their voice heard in a fair system of representation,” said Kathleen Yang-Clayton, Director of Policy and Programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Chicago.

To address underrepresentation, local governments can adopt election systems better suited for racially diverse communities. Two solutions addressed in the report, cumulative voting and ranked choice voting, can help ensure that minority voting strength is not diluted by electing candidates in proportion to their support from the community. Conversely, in an at-large, winner-take-all voting system, 51 percent of the voters control 100 percent of the representation.

The traditional remedy for underrepresentation has been creation of single-member districts where a majority of voters are people of color – commonly called “majority minority” districts. But that tactic may not work in jurisdictions where minority populations are spread throughout a community rather than concentrated entirely in certain neighborhoods. In fact, 22 of the 38 jurisdictions found to severely under represent minorities are too integrated to draw a majority-minority district. Cumulative voting or ranked choice voting would be a solution for these jurisdictions to protect and promote minority voting rights.

The report provides advocates and policymakers in Illinois with multiple options for addressing this issue:

•     Local level: Home rule jurisdictions can adopt more equitable election systems, such as cumulative voting or ranked choice voting, through referenda placed on the ballot by a unit of government or through a citizen-led petition drive.

•     State level: The state could adopt a Voting Rights Act, such as one recently enacted in California, requiring fairer representation of communities of color. A state Voting Rights Act would provide additional protections for minority voters and enable minority groups to more easily sue jurisdictions such as some of those highlighted in the new Illinois report.

•     Nationwide: Government and non-government actors could run programs or initiatives to increase local voter turnout and recruit and train people of color to run for local office. Without comparable turnout by people of color to that of white voters, and without minority candidates on the ballot, no election system can ensure that people of color are fairly represented.

“A strong democracy includes political leaders who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. This is critical in ensuring that all voices are heard in government,”said George Cheung, Senior Program Officer at the Joyce Foundation. “We urge policy makers at all levels of government to hear this message and act to lift every voice.”

The organizations that developed the report will soon begin convening advocates across the state to discuss the findings and their implications, and also provide opportunities for raising public awareness and engaging citizen action.