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Citing ‘unfair policies,’ housing non-profit sues North Aurora facility

Updated: November 22, 2013 6:17AM

AURORA — Following a complaint and investigation, a West Chicago housing non-profit has filed a lawsuit against a North Aurora supportive living facility citing unfair policies against people with mental health diagnoses.

Anne Houghtaling, executive director of the HOPE Fair Housing Center, said Friday that HOPE began an investigation into the practices of the North Aurora Eden Supportive Living facility after receiving complaints from individuals who were turned down under a “no mental illness” policy at the facility.

Kimberly O’Connor, the lead plaintiff in the case, was categorically denied housing by the Eden North Aurora facility after revealing a mental health diagnosis, Houghtaling said.

After O’Connor’s complaint, Houghtaling said HOPE had others call and inquire about living at the facility.

“They were told either ‘no mental illness’ or were asked about a diagnosis and then (an Eden representative) said, ‘No, you can’t live here,’” Houghtaling said.

In the lawsuit filed in Northern District of Illinois court, the plaintiffs allege that Eden violated a number of Civil Rights provisions, including: a “no mental illness” policy that was regularly communicated to applicants at Eden Supportive Living in North Aurora and that Eden representatives flatly reject tenants from consideration who reveal that they have a mental health history.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. The law applies to housing and housing-related activities.

Houghtaling said Friday that Eden’s screening process improperly screens out potential residents based on the label of a diagnosis alone.

“This unfairly denies a basic right — housing — to many who would be great tenants,” she said.

The lawsuit also names the State of Illinois as a defendant. Houghtaling said that the state’s regulations concerning potential exclusion of tenants from Supportive Living Facilities “fails to guard against exclusion based on disability status and diagnosis alone.”

“The Illinois Supportive Living Facilities process does not most effectively prohibit bad actors like Eden from having blanket ‘no mental illness’ policies or treating… Medicaid (patients) with mental health diagnoses from being treated differently than non-disabled or non-mentally disabled persons,” the lawsuit reads.

O’Connor and HOPE are represented by Susan Silverstein of the AARP Foundation Litigation and Jennifer Soule of Chicago-based law firm Soule, Bradtke and Lambert. Soule previously served as attorney for the Aurora Housing Authority.

Silverstein said that excluding people based on a label “is not only illegal, but an attitude that hasn’t been acceptable in decades.”

Katherine Kuhl, executive director of the Eden Supportive Living facility in North Aurora, could not be reached Thursday or Friday.

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