New Hope city leaders are being accused of violating state law, months after they voted to shut down two group homes. A civil lawsuit was filed against the city January 11 in Hennepin County District Court. It alleges the city discriminated against people with diagnosed mental health disabilities and other disabilities when it revoked the rental licenses of their group homes. An emergency injunction is also being sought to allow one home to remain open.
The homes are licensed and regulated by the state’s health department as assisted living facilities. But police began citing residents for “disorderly behavior” earlier this year after responding to incidents including a drug overdose death, a disturbance at the home where a resident threw a cup at a window, and a situation where police were called after a resident made unwelcome comments to a neighbor.
“These people are going to be homeless,” said Matt Kezhaya, the attorney representing the group homes. “It’s a lot of harm that happens from these decisions.”
The city’s decision, first reported by KSTP TV 5 INVESTIGATES in December, has drawn public outcry from disability rights and mental health advocates. It’s also been referred to as a “loophole” by state lawmakers, who question the city’s authority.
The lawsuit argues the city violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which prohibits disability discrimination in housing.
“It’s the targeting and exiling of people because of characteristics that people don’t like,” Kezhaya said. “The intent was to get these people out of the city limits, and they executed on it.”
At a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Kathi Hemken read a lengthy memo addressing the controversy. She cited safety concerns for home residents and neighbors as reasons to shut the homes down. “The City of New Hope recognizes the importance the more than 60 group homes within our city have in providing safe and accessible housing for individuals with disabilities,” it began. “We stand firmly against discrimination of any kind and recognize the value of all community members.”