Landmark DOJ Statement of Interest Exposes City of Chicago's Weak Defense in Accessible Affordable Housing Litigation


December 13, 2023 | by Bridget Hayman

DOJ disputes the City’s claim that it has no responsibility to ensure that the buildings it funds comply with federal accessibility requirements


Bridget Hayman

Director of Communications

(312) 640-2129

CHICAGO, IL – December 13, 2023 — The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Tuesday night filed a Statement of Interest (SOI) in a civil rights case brought forth by leading disability organization Access Living and represented by Relman Colfax, challenging the City of Chicago’s arguments concerning Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Federal disability rights claims brought by Access Living  allege that the inaccessibility of many of  more than 500 apartment complexes funded by the Department of Housing (DOH) have forced thousands of Chicagoans with disabilities into nursing homes, assisted living, homeless shelters, or inaccessible housing units. Seeking to avoid liability, the City of Chicago filed a motion for summary judgment claiming it does not have a responsibility to ensure that buildings it funds comply with federal accessibility requirements, despite receiving billions of dollars from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over the past 35 years.

The DOJ Statement refutes the City of Chicago’s arguments and supports Access Living’s interpretation of the law, explaining that “Section 504 [of the Rehabilitation Act] and Title II [of the Americans with Disabilities Act] cover all programs and activities of the City, and the law and undisputed facts support that providing affordable rental housing opportunities is a program or activity of Chicago. The Statement of Interest also explains that Chicago is liable for the accessibility of its program or activity even when it contracts with private developers to build affordable housing.”

“We are heartened to see the Department of Justice weighing in on this important issue and helping us to hold the City of Chicago accountable for failing Chicagoans with disabilities,” said Access Living Executive Vice President Daisy Feidt. “Everyone deserves accessible, affordable housing options where they can make a home, and it’s long past time the City fulfills its legal and moral duty to ensure its housing complies with federal requirements.”

This is no ordinary legal maneuver—DOJ files SOIs sparingly, choosing cases where it sees a crucial need for the proper and uniform application of significant laws, only filing an estimated 25 SOIs in federal courts annually.

“Ignoring federal accessibility obligations over 35 years, the City has effectively told people with disabilities it will not consider their needs when it promises to provide affordable housing to all Chicagoans. said Michael Allen, Partner at Relman Colfax, whose civil rights litigation practice focuses on the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and related civil rights laws. “It’s long past the time for  people with disabilities in Chicago to have the accessible affordable housing they need and deserve.”

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Established in 1980, Access Living is a center of service, advocacy, and social change for people with disabilities led and run by people with disabilities. We envision a world free from barriers and discrimination – where disability is a respected and natural part of the human experience and people with disabilities are included and valued.