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Jacksonville Nears Settlement In Housing Discrimination Lawsuit

Ray Hollister

A settlement between disability rights nonprofits, the Department of Justice and Jacksonville is well on its way to becoming law after passing its final City Council committee this Tuesday.

The full council is expected next week to approve the agreement that helps the city avoid trial for violating the federal Fair Housing Act.

After weeks of public workshops, Councilman Danny Bectonfiled a new version of zoning changes as part of the settlement city lawyers finished hammering out earlier this year with Ability Housing. The nonprofit sued over the city’s denial of a permit for a 12-unit complex in Springfield.

Ability Housing lawyer Tom Ingram said the core of the settlement remains.

“They continue to recognize and protect the rights of persons with disabilities as to their right to choose any neighborhood in which to reside and to have a home,” he said.

The amended agreement still requires the city to pay around $2 million in legal fees and fines, and to establish a grant for disability housing. But it tweaks the process for people with disabilities to request exemptions to zoning laws.

“There are some types of changes that would require a rezoning or a higher level of approval than simply an administrative grant of that approval (and ) also to harmonize the city’s code requirements with the Fair Housing Act,” he said.

After final passage, city residents with disabilities would have to apply for a zoning exemption with Jacksonville Planning Director Bill Killingsworth. Accommodations could include things like retrofitting a house with a wheel chair ramp. If the exemption is rejected the petitioner can appeal to City Council.

The Becton bill is the city’s first standardized process for applying for “reasonable accommodations.” It’s always just been “ad-hoc,” said Ingram.

The bill also explicitly states the city complies with all federal regulations stemming from the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ingram said Ability Housing has no plans to move forward with the Cottage Avenue project even after the settlement is passed.  

Some Springfield and Riverside residents have expressed concerns throughout the settlement process, arguing the zoning changescould threaten the historic character of their neighborhoods and possibly impact home values.

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Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.