Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Epilogue: Supportive Housing Tenants Are Thriving
It's been almost a year since the U.S. District Court ruled that Derby officials discriminated against persons with disabilitieswhen they refused to give zoning approval for 15 units of supportive housing. City officials complained that Derby is a "dumping ground" for people in need of social services. That significant damage award to the non-profit housing developer is still on appeal. But the zoning certificates have been issued, the housing has been built, and tenants have since moved into the units that are managed by Home, Inc.- the non-profit developer and LAA's client - with case management services provided by BH Care (formerly Birmingham Group Health Services).
Meet Jamie. She is 22 years old and has been getting treatment and services from BH Care since she turned 18 and was discharged from DCF (Department of Children and Families) custody. Transitioning from DCF custody to adulthood was difficult, and finding safe, stable affordable housing proved nearly impossible. For a while, she "couch-surfed", bouncing from one friend's home to another while looking for housing. Jamie explained that she was eligible for another housing assistance program, but still had trouble finding an apartment. "There is a stigma, and landlords get nervous as soon as they hear the word 'subsidized'. I've been asked to have my case worker sign the lease with me."
Jamie's case manager put her on the list for the new supportive housing, and she was later selected as a tenant. She is thrilled with her new apartment, the walls of which are covered with her original artwork, including those pictured below. "Just having a stable place to live allows me to focus on what I need to do, like going to school. With my anxiety disorder, there is no way I could go to school if I had to worry about how I would make the rent every month." Jamie is currently studying Behavioral Science at Housatonic Community College and plans to enroll in a surgical technology program to improve her job prospects for when she finishes school.
Earlier this year, when Home Inc. dedicated the first of its supportive housing buildings in the Valley, LAA's legal team attended the dedication. A man who had been homeless for seven months read a poem he had prepared about what moving into his new apartment meant to him:
A sanctuary where I can be safe and in peace.
A sanctuary where I can be happy, optimistic and positive.
A sanctuary where I can have stability and security.
A sanctuary where I can be when I'm having an off day and where I can work out my issues.
Individuals who rely on BH Care's services are already rising to meet other challenges in their lives, without having to cope with the stigma associated with mental illness and the prospect of homelessness. We at LAA are inspired by the supportive housing tenants and pleased that - with your help - we were able to play a role in combating housing discrimination.