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45 Years of Impact Spotlight

Fighting under the Fair Housing Act Against Discriminatory Zoning Rules

The FHA also prohibits state and local governments from applying zoning and land use laws in ways that limit access to housing by people with disabilities and may require them to provide waivers or exceptions to those as reasonable accommodations to ensure equal housing.  In 1993, DRP filed Pulcinella v. Ridley Township challenging Ridley Township’s denial of a variance requested by a man with paraplegia to build an accessible addition to the house where he lived with his sister and ultimately obtained an agreement from the township to grant the variance.

In Wise v. Township of Chartiers, DRP filed a lawsuit on behalf of two individuals with intellectual disabilities who were unable to move from Western Center into a planned group home because the township enacted a zoning ordinance that barred group homes from operating in all residential districts and allowed them in commercial districts only if they satisfied onerous requirements.  As a result of the lawsuit, the parties negotiated a settlement that allowed the individuals with disabilities to immediately move into their home and required the township to repeal the discriminatory ordinance.

Similarly, in Burke v. West Penn Township, DRP pursued FHA discrimination claims on behalf of three individuals with intellectual disabilities who moved into a group home after they were discharged from state institutions.  Although the residents met the definition of “family” in the township’s zoning ordinance, the township and zoning hearing board concluded they were not entitled to live in the home.  Shortly after filing suit, DRP reached a settlement agreement with the Township that allowed the group home to continue to operate without interference by the township.

In 2013, DRP assisted the City Mission to secure zoning approval to develop a transitional housing program for people who are homeless and have disabilities in Uniontown. The Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) initially barred the project on the basis that it was not an apartment building (allowed to operate as of right in the R-2 zoning) and, instead, was a “treatment center” that was prohibited in R-2 zones. DRP wrote a demand letter to the ZHB and the city, alleging that the ZHB’s actions violated the FHA and ADA. The city then appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which remanded the matter to the ZHB and required it to hold another hearing. The ZHB held a new hearing and granted City Mission the necessary authorizations to allow the project to proceed.

DRP has also filed amicus briefs challenging discriminatory housing restrictions imposed on people with disabilities by local governments.  DRP filed an amicus brief in Horizon House Dev. Services, Inc. v. Township of Upper Southampton, a case concerning the validity of a township’s zoning requirement that limited the number of group homes within a particular geographic distance.  The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff’s and DRP’s position that the requirement violated the FHA and the constitution.  In U.S. v. City of Philadelphia, DRP filed an amicus brief in a case challenging Philadelphia’s refusal to grant a reasonable accommodation to waive its zoning requirement that impeded Project Home’s development of single room occupancy housing for individuals with mental illness and substance use disabilities.  The appellate court summarily affirmed the district court’s ruling that the city’s actions violated the FHA.