An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has found that the city of Anoka’s crime-free multi-housing program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against tenants with mental health disabilities.
In a 10-page letter to city officials, the DOJ alleges the city discouraged tenants struggling with mental illness from seeking emergency help — even when their health and safety were at risk.
Under the crime-free housing program, tenants who are the subject of excessive “nuisance calls” are subject to eviction. The DOJ found the city considered mental health 911 calls nuisance activity.
“It is not a nuisance if you’re feeling suicidal,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Minnesota. Listing other conditions, she said, “These are mental health issues. And they shouldn’t be treated as a crime,” she said.
The DOJ also alleges the city notified landlords of potential nuisance calls and encouraged landlords to evict tenants who were the subject of the calls. Sometimes those communications included personal details about tenants’ mental illnesses.
The DOJ report reveals of the calls for service, many show the city often did not enforce its nuisance ordinance against individuals without mental health disabilities who engaged in similar activity as people with mental health disabilities.
Abderholden said the report made her “livid.” “Actually, to think that someone is calling 911 Because they’re experiencing a mental health crisis. And then it comes back to basically discriminate against them in terms of their housing situation is just untenable.”
In a statement, DOJ Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said using a so-called “crime-free” housing ordinance to invoke fear and prevent people with mental health disabilities from exercising their right to access housing and seek emergency assistance is discriminatory. Clarke called the city’s practices a “scheme cloaked as a public safety measure that targets people with disabilities.”
The DOJ provided minimum remedial measures necessary in its letter to the city. It’s asking the city to change its policies and procedures, designate an ADA coordinator, and train staff. The DOJ concluded if a resolution can’t be reached, the city may face a lawsuit.
(Source: Minnesota Public Radio)